Spiritual Gratitude

Thomas J. Euteneuer
Nov. 17, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

As we approach the great American holiday of Thanksgiving, let us not just give thanks for material prosperity. That is indeed a blessing, but it could give us a wrong notion of the true nature of gratitude.

We do not just thank God for material things - we thank Him for everything! Gratitude is not a duty, per se, it is a habit of heart that we must cultivate in all circumstances, not just when we receive something we like. The Catholic version of thanksgiving is a Eucharistic attitude of heart that opens us to grace and without which we are not able to appreciate God's gifts that come to us in every moment and are to be found in every circumstance.

If we lack that inclination to give thanks for all things, let us look to Him who taught us the way. We can find this lesson in the greatest of all blessings, the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist, our Lord's great act of thanksgiving. "On the night He was betrayed He took bread and gave you thanks ...." Now think of that. What man gives thanks when he has just been sold for thirty pieces of silver by his trusted friend and is just hours away from being brutally executed? His grateful Heart looked right through the dreadful human dimension of things into their eternal meaning and gave thanks even for suffering and death. He was not in denial of the harsh realities of this world, but He did not see them as ultimate or final. They were rather means to an end, which was the sacrifice that He was offering "for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven." That was the grace that made it all meaningful, and that was why He was grateful.

That is the heart of gratitude that we should strive for. Our hearts will remain too small to appreciate the mystery of God's love present in every human experience unless we are grateful for all things, even the ones which make us suffer. Gratitude expands our hearts and connects us to a timeless reality; it makes us strong, loving and mature in spirit and giving us the inner resources we need to overcome the pains and problems of life. There is a grace inside every experience of life, and gratitude finds it.

During a recent pro-life event, a lady came up to the abortion poster I was holding and looked very carefully at it. I thought she would blast me because she looked like she was preparing a studied response.

Instead, she told me a horror story of her own sorrow at the hands of an abusive man: "Ten years ago some selfish man wanted me to do that (meaning abortion) because of what he did to me. I refused and gave the baby up for adoption. Now she is ten years old in a happy family, and I keep in touch with the family." Then she said, "It's not a burden to me here (pointing to her heart), or here (pointing to her head) or, most importantly, here (pointing upward). I am grateful."

She found the grace, didn't she?

As Catholics, Thanksgiving is not one day a year - it is not even something to celebrate like a holiday. It's a disposition of soul without which we cannot live in grace or rather, without which we cannot find the grace to live.