The Thanksgiving holiday always provides the occasion for reflection on gratitude, a virtue fundamental to loving our neighbor. We speak often of gratitude as we make our children write thank you notes for the Christmas presents that they receive and acknowledge the waiters and waitresses who bring them their food. And we make them say thank you to their teachers after a day of school. But why? Because gratitude is connected to the virtue of justice, the virtue wherein we give to others what they are due. In this case, gratitude is something that we “owe” to benefactors by way of compensating them for good things done on our behalf.
Of course, the manner in which we say thank you varies from situation to situation, relationship to relationship. Nonetheless, gratitude is necessary to express, for can we truly say that we love our neighbor if we are not grateful, nor express that gratitude, for all that they have done for us? When children rip open their Christmas presents and cast them aside without even looking the person in the eye who gave the present to them, we’re filled with tremendous embarrassment as parents because we recognize that this is a failure of love by the child. While it may not be a legal obligation that we have to be grateful, it is certainly a moral obligation. It is, as your mother may have called it, “the right thing to do.” The government may not bang down your door for failing to write a thank you card to Grandma and Grandpa for your Christmas presents, but mother certainly might!
What does this all have to do with the spiritual life? Well one of the most fundamental principles of the spiritual life is the fact that God’s grace is a gift. I have no natural right, no natural claim, to grace. Nor, frankly, am I deserving of grace in my sins. Rather, precisely because grace is a supernatural reality as a share in the Divine Triune Life, so grace is gratuitous. And as a gift, it is only appropriate that I say thank you. So the type of gratitude that we know we have a moral obligation to in our day-to-day life in loving our neighbor can certainly be seen as analogous for the gratitude that we must necessarily show each and every day of our lives for God’s grace.
We can also be certain that our Lord Himself recognizes our ingratitude, as He spoke of to St. Margaret Mary in the Sacred Heart revelations: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love.” We cannot truly love neighbor without gratitude for all that they have done for us. Nor can we truly love God without gratitude for the beautiful gift of grace that He gives us!
This necessity of gratitude dramatically increases as we reach this time of the year. For not only do we have Thanksgiving to account for, but also the upcoming Christmas season shortly thereafter. And precisely because all graces come by way of Jesus Christ and His Incarnation, specifically through His Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, so the Christmas season of celebrating the fact of God having become man is one in which gratitude must reign supreme.
Yet in order to get to this proper perspective, we need to live Advent well, the season of great preparation for the promise and expectation of the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. I invite you to listen in, then, to our new “Advent with the Director” lecture series, wherein you can spend time for the first three weeks of Advent learning about this wonderful season! Join me as we enter into the great mystery of God’s gratuitous gift of grace in Christ Jesus, through Whom we enter into the Triune Life.
Advent with the Director
Mondays during Advent
9-10 a.m. or 7-8 p.m.
Nov. 30, Dec. 7 & 14
Click here to register
Daniel Campbell is the Director of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Lay Division.