Gratitude

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks…” (Luke 11.15-16)

Thank you, O God, for all the graces
Which unceasingly you lavish upon me,
Graces which enlighten me with the brilliance of the sun,
For by them you show me the sure way.

Thank you, O Lord, for creating me,
For calling me into being from nothingness,
For imprinting your divinity on my soul,
The work of sheer merciful love.

Thank you, O God, for Holy Baptism
Which engrafted me into your family,
A gift great beyond all thought or expression
Which transforms my soul.

Thank you, O Lord, for Holy Confession,
For that inexhaustible spring of great mercy,
For that inconceivable fountain of graces
In which sin-tainted souls become purified.

Thank you, O Jesus, for Holy Communion
In which you give us yourself.
I feel your Heart beating within my breast
As you cause your divine life to unfold within me.

Thank you, O Holy Spirit, for the Sacrament of Confirmation,
Which dubs me your knight
And gives strength to my soul at each moment,
Protecting me from evil…

Thank You, O Lord, for the Sacrament of Anointing
Which, in my final moments, will give me strength;
My help in battle, my guide to salvation,
Fortifying my soul till we rejoice forever.

Thank you, O God, for all the inspirations
That your goodness lavishes upon me,
For the interior lights given my soul,
Which the heart sense but words cannot express.

Thank you, O Holy Trinity, for the vastness of the graces
Which you have lavished on me unceasingly through life.
My gratitude will intensify as the eternal dawn rises,
When, for the first time, I sing to your glory.
–Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938)

It is gratitude that prompts us to exchange our production paradigm for a growth paradigm as regards Christian discipleship. All things are seen to “hold together” and be essentially one without the loss of uniqueness (rather the gain of true self — personhood) as a result of gratitude.

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At All Times and In All Places … Let Us Be Grateful

Celebrant    Let us stand well. Let us stand in awe. Let us be attentive, that we may present the holy offering in peace.
People          A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.
Celebrant    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
People          And with your spirit.
Celebrant    Let us lift up our hearts.
People          We lift them up to the Lord.
Celebrant    Let us give thanks to the Lord.
People          It is proper and right to worship the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.

Celebrant   It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us… (The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

From “The Homilies on Matthew,” by St. John Chrysostom
Let us give thanks to God throughout our lives. For how wrong it would be, if every day we enjoyed his blessings in deed, and yet in word gave him no return, and that too when an offering of gratitude would but increase our advantage. For God needs noth­ing from us, but we need everything from him. So our thanks are of no profit to him, but they make us more worthy of him. For if the memory of their kindness towards us deepens our love for our fellow men, how much more will the perpetual memory of the Lord’s goodness to us make us more eager to keep his commands.

For the best safeguard of a kindness is to remember it with everlasting gratitude. That is why that awe-inspiring and life-giv­ing sacrament which we celebrate at every gathering is called the Eucharist. It is the commemoration of many blessings and the culmination of divine providence, and teaches us to give thanks always.

For if to be born of a Virgin was a great miracle, and the amazed evangelist wrote of it: All this happened, what can we say of the Lord’s sacrifice? For if the Lord’s birth was called all this, what should we call his crucifixion, the shedding of his blood, and his giving himself to us as a spiritual feast? Therefore we must give thanks to him continuously, and let thanksgiving be the motive of all we do and say. And let us give thanks not only for our own blessings, but for those of our neighbours too. Thus we shall be able to rid ourselves of envy, and increase our love and make it more sincere. For to continue to envy those on whose behalf we give thanks to the Lord will be impossible.

Therefore the priest too, when that sacrifice is set before him, bids us give thanks for the whole world, for the old dispensation and the new, for all that was done for us before and all that awaits us hereafter. For this sets us free from earth and turns us towards heaven, and makes angels out of men. Even the very angels, in heavenly choirs, give thanks to God for his goodness to us, as they sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men in whom he is well pleased.

But what is this to us who are not on earth and are not men? It means a great deal, for it teaches us so to love our fellow-servants that we rejoice in their good fortune as if it were our own. It is for that reason that St Paul in all his letters gives thanks for the blessings of the whole world. So let us too give everlasting thanks for all the gifts, large or small, that are given both to ourselves and to others.

 

The Holy Eucharist – Fullness of Life in the Midst of Life

Gratitude — Really?? Am I??

Ecclesiastes 1.12
[12] And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Psalm 116
[12] What shall I render to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
[13] I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
[14] I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
[15] Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
[16] O LORD, I am thy servant;
I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast loosed my bonds.
[17] I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
[18] I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
[19] in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

I have been blessed over the last several months in my ongoing reflection – ruminatio – on passages from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. She says, early on, in what proves to be a/the key chapter of the book, “a word to live … and die by”:

“Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ Joy. Ah…yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about, that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception…all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is joy.’ … ‘The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live…. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.’ … Eucharisteo – whenever: now. Joy – wherever: here… ‘The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”

Really, the only way to appreciate this all too brief quote is to read the whole chapter and the whole book ! !

Now, of course, I am not going to leave it at that. I must place it in the context of the Church Fathers (and Mothers). Transformation often happens in my life in this way (among others): My independent lines of reading intersect, affect one another, work transformation in my life or the life of someone with whom I share life, and reorient my course and focus in those lines of reading. Well, it just so happens that my reading of the chapter mentioned above coincided with a book of daily readings from the Church Fathers. Here is the text of that reading.

From the Detailed Rules for Monks by Saint Basil the Great
Love of God is not something that we can be taught. We did not learn from someone else how to rejoice in light or want to live, or to love our parents or guardians. It is the same, perhaps even more so, with our love for God: it does not come by another’s teaching. As soon as the living creature (that is, man) comes to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love. When the school of God’s law admits this power of reason, it cultivates it diligently, skillfully nurtures it, and with God’s help brings it to perfection.

For this reason, as by God’s gift, I find you with the zeal necessary to attain this end, and you on your part help me with your prayers. I will try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, let me say that we have already received from God the ability to fulfill all his commands. We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us. We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received. When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness. But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.
This is the definition of sin: the misuse of powers given us by God for doing good, a use contrary to God’s commandments. On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God’s command.

Since this is so, we can say the same about love. Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence and innate power and ability to love. The proof of this is not to be sought outside ourselves, but each one can learn this from himself and in himself. It is natural for us to want things that are good and pleasing to the eye, even though at first different things seem beautiful and good to different people. In the same way, we love what is related to us or near to us, though we have not been taught to do so, and we spontaneously feel well disposed to our benefactors.
What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and satisfying than God’s majesty? What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified of sin and cries out in its love: I am wounded by love? The radiance of the divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.

… What words can adequately describe God’s gifts? They are so numerous that they defy enumeration. They are so great that any one of them demands our total gratitude in response.

Yet even though we cannot speak of it worthily, there is one gift which no thoughtful man can pass over in silence. God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.

Then, when man was deceived by the serpent and fell into sin, which led to death and to all the sufferings associated with death, God still did not forsake him. He first gave man the law to help him; he set angels over him to guard him; he sent the prophets to denounce vice and to teach virtue; he restrained man’s evil impulses by warnings and roused his desire for virtue by promises. Frequently, by way of warning, God showed him the respective ends of virtue and of vice in the lives of other men. Moreover, when man continued in disobedience even after he had done all this, God did not desert him.

No, we were not abandoned by the goodness of the Lord. Even the insult we offered to our Benefactor by despising his gifts did not destroy his love for us. On the contrary, although we were dead, our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to life again, and in a way even more amazing than the fact itself, for his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.

He bore our infirmities and endured our sorrows. He was wounded for our sake so that by his wounds we might be healed. He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for our sake, and he submitted to the most ignominious death in order to exalt us to the life of glory. Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination.

How, then, shall we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? He is so good that he asks no recompense except our love: that is the only payment he desires. To confess my personal feelings, when I reflect on all these blessings I am overcome by a kind of dread and numbness at the very possibility of ceasing to love God and of bringing shame upon Christ because of my lack of recollection and my preoccupation with trivialities.

—————
Do you detect the interplay between these texts ? ! I did… What makes them transformative is not the profundity of the information contained in them, although it is profound. What makes them transformation is meeting and communing with Christ Jesus in and through them. The course of my life has changed because the Lord Jesus Christ, the “One Who has come,” “the One Who is present,” and “the coming One” encountered me and I Him, via these texts.

Fr. Thomas

The Spirit of Gratitude: An Essential Aspect of Our Full Humanity

The gospel reading for yesterday in the Eastern Orthodox Church was the parable of the ungrateful vineyard workers – Matthew 21.33-42. It is a story of the tragic effects of ingratitude toward the owner of the vineyard by those whom he has hired to work in his vineyard. The hatred toward the owner by the workers is “taken out on” those whom the owner sends to collect the harvest. They beat one, killed another, and stoned yet another. In our nice, orderly, and civilized American society, the scene of public beatings and killings are chilling – riots with fatal beatings caught on tape for the world to see. And stoning? Well, that is in class of horror all its own.

Without gratitude, our humanity begins to slowly disappear. The human spirit is infested with the spirits of resentment, entitlement, and perpetual discontent.

All of these thoughts were very sobering and cautionary as I read the homily by St. Nikolai based on the gospel pericope. Let me share just the part on gratitude with a couple of Scriptural passages that speak of the importance of gratitude.

“There is nothing in this world uglier than ingratitude, nothing more insulting or soul-destroying. What can be uglier than when a man suppresses and conceals a good work done to him? And what is uglier than when a man returns mercilessness for mercy, faithlessness for faithfulness, dishonor for honour and mockery for good? Such ingratitude draws a black cloud between the ungrateful on the one hand and the most pure Eye from heaven – that is light without the admixture and goodness without the admixture of evil – on the other… In this world, gratitude receives its true, divine radiance and ingratitude its destructive ugliness, only in man – only in the human race. No single other living creature in the world is capable of such gratitude or ingratitude as man. The most grateful man is the closest to perfection. His gratitude to all God’s creatures around him makes him the finest citizen of this star-studded universe. Gratitude towards men makes him the first citizen of human society; gratitude towards the Creator of the universe and towards men makes him a worthy citizen of the Kingdom of God.” Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pg.127-128

The Psalmist knew the essential character of gratitude. He issues transformative invitations to you and me that are both encouraging and exhortive:

Psalm 95

[1] O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
[2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
[3] For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
[4] In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
[5] The sea is his, for he made it;
for his hands formed the dry land.
[6] O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
[7] For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would hearken to his voice!
[8] Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
[9] when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
[10] For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways.”
[11] Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.

Psalm 100  

[1] Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
[2] Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
[3] Know that the LORD is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
[4] Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
[5] For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Listen to the admonition of St. Paul: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3.14-17

The Church has, during course of its daily worship life, taken St. Paul’s admonition seriously — “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness” — and adopted Psalms 95 and 100 among other canticles, as its way of encouraging and training believers on the right way to begin the day. We must make a right beginning to each and every day. That beginning is by voicing our gratitude to God for all things. It makes a difference not only in how we relate to Him during the day. It makes a difference in how we end up treating other the people we encounter as well.

Fr. Thomas