Gratitude: A moral obligation

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By Daniel Campbell

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
Registration: $35
Click here to register

Daniel Campbell is the Director of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Lay Division.

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!