Thoughts on Gratitude

Stephen Lynch Features

As he often does on holidays and feast days, Stephen Lynch, OFM, provides here a reflection for Thanksgiving, reminding people of God’s call to have a grateful heart.

The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year, where “shop till you drop” becomes the rule of the day. Christmas shopping should be complemented with prayers and acts of thanksgiving to God for the love he has shown us in giving us Jesus Christ, as our Savior. We should also thank God for all the loved ones with which God has blessed us. The Christmas season may begin in the marketplace, but hopefully it will end in Church.

Jesus constantly urges his hearers to use God’s gifts well: be productive; be grateful for your blessings. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, God gives His gifts with certain expectations.  Jesus minces no words: Use your talents or lose them. God rewarded as worthwhile servants the workers who worked well. On the other hand, the workers who failed to do their job well, God punished as useless servants. God also destroyed as useless the vineyard that produced sour grapes. The Bible separates the “saved” from the “unsaved” according to those who are worthwhile or useless in God’s sight. Jesus teaches that God is displeased with ingratitude.

For example, only one out of 10 lepers came back to thank Jesus for the gift of healing.  The one was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Jesus blessed the leper who returned to say, “thank you,” for being healed, but Jesus was saddened that the other nine took God’s healing for granted and neglected to offer thanks.

Of all nationalities in the world, Americans should be the most dedicated to service on behalf of humanity. Failure to share our blessings with those less fortunate could mean losing those blessings ourselves. St. Paul reminds us:  Whatever you do, whether in word or work, give thanks to God through the Lord Jesus. Col. 3. 17. Appreciation leads to thanksgiving; narcissistic self-centeredness leads to ingratitude. The grateful heart is the joyful heart, even in the midst of personal sufferings.

St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers: “I wish to compose a new Praises of the Lord for his creatures. These creatures minister to our needs every day; without them we could not live.” G. K. Chesterton says that The Canticle of the Creatures reveals St. Francis’ inner self and the caliber of his soul.  Francis is especially conscious of the fact that everything comes from God. Creatures reflect the goodness of their Creator. In all religions, giving thanks for blessings and benefits forms an essential part of prayer. The care of the soul demands we give thanks for God’s blessings, and show gratitude especially to the significant people who have touched our lives.

The Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, says that in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the ones who survived were those who did not lose the will to live, because they found some meaning for life. Meaning came because a person had found something still to love. Meaning and love go together to give hope.  Basically, those who stopped loving, stopped living.

Dr. Frankl sometimes asked his patients who suffered from a multitude of torments, “Why don’t you commit suicide?” In one person’s life, there is love for one’s children to tie into; in another, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving.

To weave these slender threads of broken life into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility is the object and challenge of Dr. Frankl’s healing process called logotherapy.

Dr. Frankl concludes his book on this uplifting note: “After all, man is that being who has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered those gas chambers upright, head held high, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Israel on his lips.”

— Stephen ministers at the Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I.