Gratitude: A moral obligation

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: ‘I have seen the Lord’: St. Vincent de Paul’s new adoration chapel honors St. Mary Magdelene’s witness

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“I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18). 

One couple from St. Vincent de Paul parish took these words to heart with urgency last year during the pandemic and decided to build a Eucharistic Adoration chapel for their fellow faithful to be in the Lord’s presence themselves. 

Mike and Shari Sullivan donated design and construction of the new Eucharistic Adoration Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene adjacent to their parish church to make a space for prayer and adoration that they felt needed to be reinstated, especially during the difficult days of COVID-19. 

The chapel was completed this spring and dedicated during Divine Mercy weekend with a special blessing from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. 

“It was invigorating to have the archbishop bless the chapel,” Mike said. “The church has been buzzing.” 

Mike has been a Catholic and a member of St. Vincent de Paul since his baptism, which he jokes was around the time the cornerstone was placed in 1951. The Sullivans’ five children all attended the attached school and had their sacraments completed at St. Vincent de Paul too. 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila dedicated the St. Mary Magdalene adoration chapel with a prayer and blessing at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on April 9, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

The 26-by 40-foot chapel is a gift to fellow parishioners of a church that has meant so much to their family for decades, and to all who want to participate in prayer and adoration. 

The architect and contractor are both Catholic, which helped in the design of Catholic structure and the construction crew broke ground in mid-December. The Sullivans wanted to reclaim any Catholic artifacts or structural pieces they could for the new chapel. Some of the most striking features of the chapel are the six stained glass windows Mike was able to secure from a demolished church in New York. 

The windows were created by Franz Xaver Zettler who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century.  The Munich style is accomplished by painting detailed pictures on large pieces of glass unlike other stained-glass methods, which use smaller pieces of colored glass to make an image. 

The two primary stained-glass windows depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, the chapel’s namesake, and they frame either side of the altar which holds the tabernacle and monstrance — both reused from St.  Vincent De Paul church.  

The Sullivans wanted to design a cloistered feel for the space and included the traditional grill and archway that opens into the pews and kneelers with woodwork from St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. 

The chapel was generously donated by Mike and Shari Sullivan. The stained glass windows, which depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, were created by Franz Xaver Zettler, who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Shari is a convert to Catholicism and didn’t grow up with the practice of Eucharistic adoration, but St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father John Hilton told her to watch how adoration will transform the parish. She said she knows it will, because of what regular Eucharistic adoration has done for her personally. 

The Sullivans are excited that the teachers at St. Vincent de Paul school plan to bring their classes to the warm and inviting chapel to learn about the practice of adoration and reflect on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The words of St. Mary Magdalene “I have seen the Lord,” have become the motto of the chapel, Mike said, and they are emblazoned on a brass plaque to remind those who enter the holy space of Christ’s presence and the personal transformation offered to those inside.

The St. Vincent de Paul  Church and The Eucharistic Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene is located at 2375 E. Arizona Ave. Denver 80210 on the corner of Arizona and Josephine Street. The chapel is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Visit https://saintvincents.org/adorationchapel1 for more information about the chapel and to look for updates on expanded hours as they occur.