G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Rooted in the soil of self-awareness, knowledge of God shoots forth the stem of gratitude. Thanks blossom forth naturally from this stem, as an almost uncontainable joy steeped in wonder and awe, the proper response of all sentient creatures to their Creator. Mixed with trust in God and forgiveness of neighbor, gratitude provides for us a key to Christian happiness and a foretaste of the everlasting joys of Heaven.
According to St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Self-knowledge puts us on our knees and it is very necessary for love.” “Knowledge of self produces humility,” she said; by it, we face the fact that the only things that are truly our own are our sins. We can neither create nor redeem ourselves. We’re weak and self-centered: doomed without any hope at all on our own. But God does not leave us there. That’s the good news, the Gospel: the Incarnation and the Redemption.
From God come all good things, because He wills to give and to love. His love is life-giving, empowering, magnanimous, and beautiful. We get to know this goodness of God by looking around at his creation, contemplating his Self-abasing Incarnation, or pondering Christ’s suffering and death for love of us. We experience his mercy, note his providence, and watch his grace at work in inspiring and empowering the good that we do. This draws us out of ourselves in gratitude, returning at least a bit of our love in response to his. Thus, St. Mother Teresa also said, “Knowledge of God produces love.” This love and gratitude is the rightful attitude of his creatures made in his image and likeness with the intellect to know Him and the will to love Him. Knowing God best, the Saints experience this most powerfully. Hence, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska wrote, “You have surrounded my life with Your tender and loving care, more than I can comprehend, for I will understand Your goodness in its entirety only when the veil is lifted. I desire that my whole life be but one act of thanksgiving to You, O God.” (Diary, 1285).
As Jesus and St. Faustina ardently point out (“Jesus, I trust in You”), such gratitude is also closely bound to trust, another source of peace and joy. St. Paul admonishes us to go through life “singing and playing to the Lord in [our] hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” (Ephesians 5:19-20; NAB) “Everything”: Even if we do not yet see his wisdom, care, and power arranging all things for our good (above all for our eternal salvation; since He—unlike us—is omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent), we should trust in Him, even in suffering and darkness; for, “we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good.” (Rom 8:28; DR) He alone knows best what’s best for us, wants it more than we do, and does all He can for that end. Therefore, St. Paul also wrote, “In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.” (1 Thess 5:18; DR) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God [the Father]; have faith also in me.” (Jn 14:1; NAB) With rock-solid faith in God, we have nothing left to fear; nothing can take away our peace and our joy in the Lord. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? […] I believe to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord. (Ps 26:1,13,14; DR)
It’s no coincidence that the most perfect and powerful thing in which we can participate on this earth, the very “source and summit of the Christian life” (LG, 11), through which all grace enters the world, is called Eucharist, meaning precisely “Thanksgiving.” We’re made for thanksgiving, as we are for happiness. And the more thankful we are, the more happy we become. In fact, it’s impossible to be unhappy when we’re grateful. Pay attention and you’ll experience this truth. It’s logical, too. As Chesterton pointed out, gratitude is an elevated form of happiness; thus you can’t remove happiness from the grateful soul. And it is our free choice to be happy. Nothing and no one can make us truly happy; we must choose it. And we can choose it, no matter what the circumstances. Even in the horrible extremes of a Nazi concentration camp, where we might think there could have been no freedom left, and that happiness might have been impossible, this was noted by the Auschwitz survivor and psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl, and explicated in his important book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Let us all choose to have the attitude of gratitude, today and always. Dignum et justum est. Indeed it is right and just to be grateful toward the good God: our duty and our right.
Finally, from this self-awareness and trustful gratitude flows—hand in hand—the habit of forgiveness. Aware that we have so often been forgiven by God, we extend mercy more easily toward others, taking joy in it (Cf. Mt 6:14-15, Col 3:13, Eph 4:32). Besides being commanded by Christ repeatedly (e.g. Mt 18:21-22, Mk 11:25, & Lk 6:37), this forgiveness adds a key ingredient to our spiritual life. More than just providing relief to others, forgiveness expels poison from our own hearts and minds. We let go and let God heal. Gratitude, trust, and forgiveness blend to form a powerful tonic for a life lived in the joy, peace, and love of Christ. Living in Him and He in us (Jn 15:4), through the power of his grace, we help spread that infectious joy and love of the Kingdom to others, and thus we Christians begin our Heaven on earth: living in God’s love, and tasting a bit of the peace, joy, and awe that will be ours if we attain to the beatific vision. Oremus pro invicem. Glory and thanks be to Him forever and ever. Amen.
Photo: “Gratitude Bubbles Forth from a Pure Heart” and Article by Stephen Snyder, 2019; All Rights Reserved.