[Editor’s Note: Today is the American holiday of Thanksgiving. While not an explicitly Catholic holiday, this day reminds us of the need to always express our gratitude to the Lord. The passage below is from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D (Baronius Press). Happy Thanksgiving!]
Incapable as we are of paying our debts to God according to justice, we should at least try to supply for them by our gratitude. Even the poorest beggar, having nothing to give in return for the alms he has received, can always acknowledge a kindness by showing gratitude to his benefactor. This is our position in regard to God: we have nothing of our own; all that we are and have comes from Him, and in return for His infinite generosity, we can do nothing but use His gifts to express our gratitude to Him. “In all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
God, who showers blessings upon us with infinite generosity, has a perfect right to expect gratitude from us. Yet this, a natural need of a humble, delicate soul, is a duty so often neglected even by good people, even by those who have received the most favors from God. Jesus complained of this neglect when only one of the ten lepers whom He had cured returned to thank Him: “And where are the nine? Is there no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger?” (Luke 17:17,18).
It is significant that the nine ungrateful ones were the nine Jews, who, being fellow-citizens of Jesus, were in a more privileged position than the stranger. Sometimes those whom Jesus has called to be His close friends, those upon whom He has bestowed a privileged vocation, are the very ones who show Him the least gratitude.
It is almost as though the multiplicity of the graces which they have received dulls their sensitiveness to the divine gifts; it seems they no longer regard the greatness of these gifts, nor the fact that they are totally gratuitous; gratitude seems to have dried up in their hearts. “Oh!” exclaims St. Teresa, “how the very greatness of His favors condemns those who are ungrateful!” (Exclamations of the Soul to God, 3).
Ingratitude always redounds to the disadvantage of the soul. Let us think, for example, of the irreparable loss of the nine lepers who, not returning to give thanks for the healing they had received, forfeited the joy the one grateful leper had of hearing Jesus say: “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19). Their want of gratitude deprived them of health of soul, a grace immeasurably more precious than the health of the body.
St. Bernard says, “Ingratitude is the enemy of the soul, the destroyer of merit and virtue, causing the loss of favors. It is a burning wind which dries up the fountain of piety, the dew of mercy, the torrents of grace.”
Gratitude, on the contrary, attracts new graces, new gifts; it draws down upon souls the infinite liberality. But this gratitude should be sincere and cordial, and should extend to all of God’s gifts. “Every gift of God, whether great or small, should be gratefully acknowledged; not even the least grace should be forgotten” (ibid.). This sincere gratitude flourishes only in a heart that is humble, convinced of its own poverty, and thoroughly aware that it is nothing and can do nothing without continual help from God.
It is not impossible, in fact, to thank God with the lips, while in the heart, one attributes the graces received to one’s own merits. Such was the false gratitude of the Pharisee when he said, “O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men” (Luke 18:11). The context clearly shows that this proud man was far from recognizing his own nothingness and attributing to God alone the little good that might have been in him.
A humble man has an entirely different attitude: if he has done some good, or practiced virtue, he is convinced that all is the fruit of grace, and therefore, not only God’s great gifts to him, but even the least of the good works he performs, are opportunities for giving continual thanks to God, whom he recognizes as the source of all good.
Who, then, can express his gratitude for every Mass, every Communion, for every confession? Each one of these graces even if renewed a thousand times finds this gratitude as lively and alert, as if it were a question of an entirely new gift. And in reality, it is: each sacrament, each divine succor, each actual grace, each spiritual or material help, brings with it newness of grace, of spiritual life, of love; blessed the soul who realizes this and praises God for it!
If the multitude of divine benefits do not produce in us proportionate fruits, the reason probably lies in our want of gratitude, and if we want to look more deeply for the root of this evil, almost always we shall find that it is a lack of humility.
[Image: “The Healing of Ten Lepers” by James Tissot]