A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Gratitude

By Anne Kerrigan

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
Aesop, 6th Century BC, Androcles

If the only prayer you ever said in your entire life was ‘Thank you’, that would suffice.
Meister Eckhardt, 14th century priest, mystic, and theologian

Gratitude in my life started out as an expression of good manners. Ever since I was a young child, I was taught to express thanks for gifts (even if I didn’t always love the yearly gift of flannel pajamas from my Aunt Jessie!), kindnesses, and any small gestures of thoughtfulness which came my way. Of course, we were also taught to thank God for all things. This was reinforced both at school and at home. As a result, thanks and gratitude became second nature to me; life was easier when you were always polite. As a child, my life was full of all sorts of gifts and blessings and it was easy to express the polite “thank yous”. The nods of appreciation from family and neighbours were strong reinforcements for an impressionable young girl. I have always considered myself a grateful person and, as I moved into adulthood, I tried to maintain the good manners I had been taught over the years.

In retrospect, from the vantage point of the golden years, I realise that I have understood little of the enormity of gratitude. As I look back over the course of a lifetime, I don’t recall thanking God when things didn’t go well or as planned. Overcoming obstacles were not cause for gratitude. The setbacks, the illnesses, the personal problems, were just situations to overcome or to deal with as needed. What was there to be thankful for? Gratitude never entered my mind.

I have finally learned that gratitude for all things is an essential element of the spiritual journey. St. Paul begins almost all of his letters with prayers of praise and thanksgiving. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul entreats us to “Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you”. St. Paul doesn’t tell us to be thankful for only the good things, the gifts. He challenges us to be constantly thankful, rejoicing always, which thus includes being thankful for and rejoicing always for even the negative and painful things! That attitude demands enormous trust in the loving God who made us and is with us always. Such an attitude calls for faith.

Becoming more aware of my many gifts and expressing my thanks to God for them helps me to be more in touch with the goodness in my life. It also enables me to be more connected to God, thus deepening my personal relationship with him. I try to say thank you to God each day for the gift of my life and for the day. Then I thank him for the many gifts in my life, and I try to verbalise some of them. It helps to say it out loud. It gives me a feeling of peace to know that I have stopped to say thank you to the One who made me and gives me all things, including life itself. I even try to thank him for the painful issues in my life because I trust in the often incomprehensible plan of God.

There is a line in the prayer that guides my prayer group which says, “Lord, I thank thee for all, I am ready for all. Let only your will be done in me”. I say this prayer every day, and its challenge did not strike me as powerfully as when my daughter Kathleen was dying. I quickly realised that the power of the prayer was in reminding me that God is God and I am not. God’s ways are not my ways and I will not understand many of the things which happen in my life. In faith, I accept, and I am even grateful because I know that God is with me.

In St. Luke’s Gospel, the story of the ten lepers tells us that one leper returned to give thanks. Jesus said, “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?” That story rather forcefully reminds me of the importance of gratitude.

O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.

Psalm 30:12


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