There can be no happiness without gratitude.
In Luke 17:11-19, we read the story of the 10 lepers. Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a certain town (scholars believe it was Jenin, a pleasant little town seated on a hill in the midst of orchards and watercourses), 10 lepers implored Him from an appropriate distance to have mercy on them. Jesus responded by instructing them to show themselves to the priests. This was not a cure but the promise of a cure. Lepers could be readmitted to society only after they had been certified by priests that they were completely clean.
Obedient to the Master's instruction, the lepers made their way to the priests. En route, miraculous cures began to transpire. One of the 10, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to express his gratitude. After prostrating himself before the feet of Jesus and offering copious thanks, the Samaritan heard Him say to all who were present: "Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17-18).
This story makes it clear that gratitude pleases Jesus very much, while its absence brings Him sorrow. All 10 showed humility, reverence, obedience, and faithfulness. We have neither the means nor the right to pass judgment on the nine who did not return to Jesus to express their gratitude. Perhaps they felt that their most urgent obligation was to present themselves before the priests. We do not know, though even postponing their expression of gratitude called forth their Savior's sorrowful expression.
The fact that Jesus did not cure all 10 lepers immediately gave them the opportunity to decide whether they should return to Him directly and express their gratitude as soon as their cures took place. The delayed miracle allows the story to underscore the significance of gratitude and invites us to reflect on why Jesus prizes it so highly.
Count Our Blessings
Gratitude is a response to a gift. Because there is a wide range in the importance of gifts, there is, correspondingly, an equally wide range in levels of gratitude. For lesser gifts, such as giving someone the time of day, a simple expression of thanks is little more than a courtesy. But the large gifts -- life itself, a miraculous cure, sacramental gifts -- demand that gratitude include far more than a gesture of courtesy. God's generous presence in our lives lays claim to a form of gratitude that is never satisfied by the mere recitation of thanks, but requires us to express our gratitude in action. The kind of gratitude that God is hoping to find is one that includes a bond of friendship and a commitment to service.
In heaven, according to Christian theology, the principal prayer of the blessed is thanksgiving. Padre Martinez, a Peruvian Jesuit, believed that gratitude is so highly fitting as a response to God's munificence that he trained himself to say Deo gratias (thanks be to God) 400 times a day, and he encouraged others to do the same.
God wants our gratitude because He wants our continuing friendship, which enables Him to lavish us with additional gifts. We know how easy it is to be ungrateful, how a preoccupation with ourselves can cause us to forget our benefits as well as our benefactors. But in addition to that, ingratitude weakens our bonds with both God and neighbor. St. Bernard has said: "Ingratitude is a searing wind which dries up the springs of pity, the dew of mercy, the streams of grace." Ingratitude leads to spiritual isolation. Therefore, gratitude, which is a triumph over selfishness and isolation, is most pleasing to God.
In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was deeply concerned that America no longer seemed gratefully disposed to her Creator. In order to remind his fellow countrymen of their need to thank God and reestablish their friendship with Him, he proclaimed a national day of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer." On that day, Lincoln stated that although Americans had been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven, they had forgotten God:
Lincoln's understanding of the importance of gratitude was profound. He knew that a weakened relationship with God inevitably meant a weakened relationship with neighbor. The Civil War was ample testimony to that fact.
Better Than Santa
Gratitude is the memory of the heart, as someone has said. It is, therefore, an expression of love and abiding friendship. Gratitude is an expression that soon transforms itself into deed. Two ways we can express gratitude in our actions are through humility and restraint. As G.K. Chesterton has said, "We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them."
There can be no happiness without gratitude. We need to know whom to thank for the gift of life. But we also need to thank Him, and the proper form of thanks is to safeguard and cherish what we have been given. Humility and restraint are appropriate ways in which we can show how much we truly appreciate what has been given to us. To quote Chesterton once again:
"Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?"
Donald DeMarco. "Gratitude." Lay Witness (Nov/Dec. 2002).
Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.
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