Cultivating a Grateful Spirit

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to assess the role gratitude plays in our lives.

In North America, many of us are so profoundly blessed that we run the risk of taking it all for granted. Sometimes we forget to offer thanks because we have never known what it’s like to live in a war zone. We don’t remember to be grateful that we can feed our families, because we have always lived in a place with grocery stores the size of football fields and have enough money to pay the bills. We don’t stop and thank God for all we’ve got because we have always been able to take a sick child to the doctor, or access limitless fresh water with just the turn of a tap. For many of us, bounty is all we’ve ever known.

One of the perils of not feeling gratitude for this embarrassment of riches, however, is that we fall prey to the endless search for more. If we don’t stop, say thanks, and recognize the gifts we have received, the desire for a bigger house or a fancier car or the latest high-end handbag can erode the quality of our lives. Instead of appreciating our good fortune, recognizing that we should go out and share what we have, we have our noses pressed up against the glass with dissatisfaction eating away at our happiness.

But gratitude is much more than merely an antidote to covetousness.  The legendary Roman philosopher and orator Cicero defined gratitude as “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” In other words, if we don’t have gratitude in our lives, we can’t even begin to lead a virtuous life. Gratitude opens our eyes not only to our own situation, but to that of others as well.

A look at the virtues as laid out in the catechism—prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and love—underlines this point. Gratefulness for receiving justice, for example, allows us to seek justice for others, because we become aware that justice is something everyone deserves. Similarly, if we are grateful for what we recognize as gifts freely given by God, then temperance will naturally follow. As Jesus instructs the disciples, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12.48)

When gratitude takes root in our lives, it becomes a form of prayer, not only acknowledging our blessings but also affirming the one who blesses us and calls us to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving!

–Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s Companion for Praying and Living the Eucharist

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