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Thanksgiving and the virtue of gratitude

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As Catholics, we are called to grow continually in virtue throughout our lives. So much of our earthly existence relates to exercising virtue, so that, through God’s mercy and grace, we may grow closer to him and live with him forever in heaven. There is an essential Christian virtue that we rarely discuss as a virtue: gratitude.

“Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).

‘Everything is a gift’

One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible regarding the virtue of gratitude is the healing of the 10 people with leprosy. In that Gospel passage, 10 people afflicted with the disease call out to Christ saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” (Lk 17:13). Jesus responds, “Go show yourselves to the priests,” and as they are on their way, they are healed (17:14). Only one, a Samaritan, returns glorifying God and giving thanks. Jesus asks, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” and then says to the Samaritan, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (17:18-19). Jesus recognizes that the man’s gratitude reflects his faith. They are connected. By responding to the healing power from Our Lord with an act of faith, the man is saved. What a critical lesson for all of us!

Reflecting on this Gospel passage, Pope Francis observes that the narrative “divides the world in two,” namely, “those who take everything as if it is owed to them, and those who welcome everything as a gift, as grace” (General Audience, Dec. 30, 2020). As Christians, we are clearly called to the latter. Since God pours out his grace on us, we should live in a constant posture of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the Sacraments

Pope Francis also reminds us that the Greek word for thanksgiving — eucharistia — is “the name given to the most essential Sacrament there is: the Eucharist.” As Christians, we are called to offer praise and thanksgiving to God, above all in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we are recipients of God’s abundant love and are offered a healing encounter. If our doctor were to heal us, we would express gratitude. How much more should we be grateful to the Divine Healer!

The Eucharist is not the only healing encounter we have with Christ in the Sacraments. “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” says St. Paul, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3). Having received Baptism and been healed of Original Sin, we take part in the Eucharist, the great prayer of “thanksgiving,” which is an act of faith in response to our baptismal encounter with Christ.

Encountering Jesus in gratitude

Through his merciful love in the Sacraments, we are renewed and refreshed. That renewal should affect the way we treat others. In the Gospel of Luke, we are told, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good” (6:45). Thus, our words and deeds should reflect that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. This too is a way of showing appreciation to God for all that he has done for us and through us.

Jesus commands, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). Whenever our families, our friends, and so many others fulfill Christ’s command through acts of love toward us, we encounter the Risen Lord. Like the Samaritan, we should respond to an encounter with Jesus with gratitude. Our offer of gratitude to the person — even a simple “Thank you!”— is more than a societal nicety. It is itself a small expression of faith, for through it we recognize that our brothers and sisters are created by God.

Conclusion

This November, as we pause to reflect on thanksgiving and gratitude, may we call to mind all the ways in which God’s grace comes before us and guides us in this life. May we remember those through whom God has worked to pour out the abundance of his love, mercy and healing. In response to these encounters with the divine, may we commit ourselves to being, in the words of Pope Francis, “bearers of gratitude,” so that our giving thanks for the wonderful works of God in our lives might be a true expression of faith in the Lord who comes to save us. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021