A certain Brother David Steindl-Rast once said, “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but (it is) gratefulness that makes us happy”. Today’s liturgical readings put more emphasis on the importance of gratitude. Being grateful is so essential for human beings that even Jesus expects it from us and is even close to demanding it.
In the First Reading, we see Naaman, the general of Syrian army, returning to the Prophet Elisha to thank him personally for the miraculous healing from leprosy, and offering the prophet lavish tokens of thanksgiving. When a person realizes the greatness of the blessings received, he becomes grateful and more generous. When we realize that we have received lots of blessings from the Lord, we become more generous to Him and His Church. Those who are stringent in giving are those who recognize very little God’s gifts.
St. Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds us that even if we are unfaithful to Jesus, our Lord “remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself”. Even if we are less generous to God with our time, talent and treasure, God continues to show us His abundant generosity by giving us what we need every day. Even more! Even if we are sometimes ungrateful to God, He remains faithful in bestowing His unconditional love for us. We see this in the Story of Ten Lepers in the Gospel.
Ten lepers came to meet Jesus and asked Him to cure them. Perhaps, Jesus knew that most of them would be ungrateful. Yet, He still cured them all. Only one, a Samaritan, came to thank Jesus. St. Luke emphasized that “this man was a Samaritan”. Perhaps, the Evangelist wanted to highlight the fact that in life, oftentimes we get good things from unexpected people. Hence, we should put aside any bias and all the prejudices we have with the people we meet every day.
Why would God want us to be grateful? Seneca said: “Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart”. He even observed that “A man is ungrateful who denies that he has received a benefit; more ungrateful is he who pretends that he has not received it. But the most ungrateful man of all is he who forgets it”. Three reasons, perhaps, why we must be grateful would be worth-pondering.
First, to give thanks is a sign of wisdom. According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “There are three things that show whether or not your mouth is full of wisdom: one, if you acknowledge and profess your own sinfulness; two, if from your mouth come acts of thanksgiving and praises; and, three, if from your mouth come words that edify others” (Various Sermons, 15). You see, to be grateful is to be wise because in recognizing the good things received, you also recognize the Giver. In gratitude, we see the truth about God and about ourselves. We recognize that everything is meaningful because everything is a gift. For this reason, Melody Beattie observes that “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend”.
Secondly, acts of thanksgiving to God are an anticipation of the praises that we shall sing to Him in heaven. To give thanks, therefore, is to practice our life in heaven. What does heaven consist in? Of course, it consists in loving God and our fellow citizens in heaven. But it also consists in eternal and non-stop acts of praise and thanksgiving. If you want to enter heaven, then, you must rehearse that life here on earth. St. Augustine once wrote: “The subject of our meditation in this present life should be the praises of God; for the everlasting exaltation of our life hereafter will be the praise of God, and none can become fit for the life hereafter, who has not practiced himself for it now” (Expositions on the Psalm 148, 1).
Lastly, he who recognizes the benefits received shall receive more. Our human experience tells us that we love to give more to people who are grateful for our gifts. To the ungrateful, we never give them anymore. God, who remains generous even to the ungrateful, multiplies the gifts for those who are grateful. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: “To whoever recognizes humbly the benefits received and is grateful for it, reasonably will receive more benefits. To him who is faithful in what is small more will be given. But who is ungrateful in what he received is unworthy of new favors” (On Psalm 50).
Commenting on today’s Gospel, St. Bernard observed that “What causes God not to grant our prayers is His finding us lacking in gratitude. After all, perhaps it is even an act of mercy on His part to hold back from the ungrateful what they are asking for so that they may not be judged all the more rigorously on account of their ingratitude… [Thus] it is sometimes out of mercy that God holds back His mercy…” If you think God is not granting you your heart’s desire, perhaps He sees that you lack enough gratitude. Wallace D. Wattles has a point when he wrote: “The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best. Therefore it tends to become the best. It takes the form or character of the best and will receive the best”.
My dear friends, if we are grateful to God and to each other by being generous in sharing our time, talent and treasure, we will grow in wisdom, we anticipate our life in heaven and we shall receive more blessings. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary the graces we need to be more grateful so that we may become happier in life, for indeed, it is not happiness that makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy.