November 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 4

The Quality of Gratitude

By Rev. Mark Connolly

Turkey on a plate

During the beautiful season of Thanksgiving, I would like to share with you some thoughts on one word - gratitude.

Gratitude is a state of mind during which we take the proper steps to thank God for the benefits we have received from Him. It is a state of mind that teaches us that everything we have, the air we breathe, the souls we have, the bodies we possess, are all due to God. It is the virtue that reminds us that we can never afford to take any gift we have received for granted. God has not only spared us from the tragedies that others experience, He has given us many of the benefits that so many lack.

And it is strange how so many are so forgetful. Very few people take the time or the effort to thank God for the enjoyment they have possessed. It is always a question of looking for more and asking for more. You will find old people who have lived fully, sixty, seventy, or eighty full years, who will complain that they cannot get around as quickly as they once did, that they cannot see as well as they did in the past, and that their hearing is slowly leaving them. Because of the difficulties that they meet with in old age, they make life miserable for themselves and for those who have to care for them. Go to any nearby hospital and you will see people who have outlived all their neighbors and friends and rarely will you find one who will be content with the fact, that after sixty, seventy, or eighty years, God has taken something from them. They never seem to realize that God could have allowed them to come to this earth hopelessly crippled victims of some incurable disease, But He didn't. In his generosity He allowed them to have full lives, with far more enjoyment than they deserve. But very few show any gratitude for this full life they have enjoyed. If anything they feel that God has forgotten them. It never dawns on them to realize, that when God deprives them of something such as sight or hearing, it might be his way of showing to them how grateful they should have been for all the years of happiness they had when they had their sight or their hearing.

If any group of people should spend their lives thanking God for His generosity, it is the old and the elderly. God has not only given them the gift of life, He has also given them the gift of Faith. Yet, all of this is forgotten when old age starts to take its toll, in the line of ailments or illness. The people of advancing years should be the most grateful of all classes. They have had the opportunity to receive God more frequently, be absolved constantly and partake of all the joys and benefits that God has placed in this earth. But usually this is not the case. They are often the most discontented, the most depressed and often the most ungrateful. They seem to think that because ailments are becoming more numerous, they are becoming more useless. They feel that since they are losing their sight or their hearing, or the ability to work as they once did, that they can serve no more function or purpose in life.

You can show them how useful they can be and how much help they can be to those who are caring for them, but they won't listen, they won't learn. They seem to think that the only thing they can do that will be worthwhile is to die and unburden those who care for them. And while they have this attitude they are still showing to God, they don't fully appreciate the life He has given them. Or in other words, they are ungrateful.

John Milton, English Poet

Our world owes a debt of gratitude to the many men and women of the past, who conquered the ailments that so many men and women of our age are experiencing. Milton, the great English Poet, wrote his most famous work, Paradise Lost, while he was blind. Beethoven, one of the greatest musical composers of the known musical world, wrote his greatest masterpieces while he was deaf. Dostoevesky, one of the most illustrious of all writers of Russian Literature, gave us some of his most inspiring work while he was living in a state of mental turmoil and anxiety. Longfellow on the occasion of a death in the family, over-came his terrible cross and gave us one of the famous translations of Dante's Divine Comedy. Robert Louis Stevenson, and hundreds of others, were so grateful with the opportunity of life itself, that they would not let it go by without showing God how grateful they were to Him. And their gratitude was shown while they were experiencing many physical and mental ailments that most of us will never be called upon to endure.

When those of advancing years hear these examples, they usually answer by saying, "well I can't write poetry. I don't write books or novels. God has not given me those talents." And what they say is true. God might not have given you the talent to write music or poetry, but He did give you the ability and the talent to make life more pleasant for those around you. He did give you the ability to offer encouragement to those who need it. He did give you the talent to bring a little joy and happiness to those who are caring for you. And if you are not willing in your old age to do this for God, then you are a most ungrateful person. For gratitude doesn't consist in getting what you like. It consists many times, in liking what you get. Not too long ago there appeared in one of our popular magazines, the story of the parents of a young man who was killed during the Korean conflict. They decided to donate a war memorial to their Church in honor of their son. While the presentation was made, another mother and father were nearby watching it. The mother turned to her husband and said, "Let's do the same for our boy." Immediately the father became indignant and turned to her and said: "But our boy wasn't killed during the war". "That is just the point", said the mother. "Let's give it because he was spared". And we can say the same about the quality of gratitude. Let's give to God, who has spared us from the tragedies that so many are called upon to endure.

What can this mind of Christ do for me? What can this Christ-like attitude mean to my fellow man? It is simply this.

"It will make me aware that this is no one of my brothers that I can do without. In the heart of the meanest miser, the most squalid prostitute, the most miserable drunkard that there is, an immortal soul with holy aspirations which deprived of daylight, worships in darkness. I hear them speaking when I speak. I hear them weeping when I go down on my knees. There is not one of them that I can do without. Just as there are many stars in the heavens and the power of reckoning is beyond my calculation, so also there are many living souls who scarcely give forth their light, but I need them all in my praise of God. There are many living beings, but there is not one o them that I cannot unit with when I say the Our Father. Because through the union of their prayers and mine, one day I will leave this earth, go out beyond the stars, beyond the planet Mars and into the arms of God where my mind and the mind of others will be reunited with the mind of Jesus Christ, his son."

- Paul Claudel