On Aug. 15, I will celebrate the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
I do not have the words to describe the joy and gratitude I feel for this gift. For these past 44 years, I have had the privilege to serve Jesus and to bring others to know him. I am humbled and, more than anything, grateful.
Gratitude is a virtue that is not well understood in our world today.
Already in the 1960s, the Servant of God Father Romano Guardini could see that people were losing the habit of being thankful. Gratitude, he wrote, was a “gradually disappearing virtue.”
Father Guardini suggested that our consumer economy was partly to blame. And he may be right. Buying and selling, exchanging our money for someone else’s goods, makes our ordinary everyday dealings with people less personal, more mechanical, and “transactional.”
We aren’t usually grateful when we buy something, Father Guardini said. Instead, we expect a receipt.
True gratitude is born from personal encounter. It is about giving to others without calculation and receiving from others gracefully; it is about asking and thanking. We can only be grateful to another person. We can’t say thank you to a corporation or legislature.
Gratitude means acknowledging that we depend on other people, and that other people depend on us, and that we all depend on God.
The Scriptures are filled with prayers of thanksgiving. Many of the psalms are songs of gratitude, thanking God for his goodness and mercy, for all his wondrous deeds.
And Jesus taught us to live with grateful hearts. We remember the Gospel story of the 10 lepers, how Jesus healed them all, but only one came back to say thank you.
The lesson is that if we want to be true followers of Jesus, we need to be like that one leper. We need to live with gratitude, returning to Jesus again and again, praising him and thanking him all the time for his graces and gifts in our lives.
The truth is that everything we have is a gift from God, beginning with our own lives. I will never stop being amazed at God’s love for us.
The only proper response to such great love is to be grateful. Through Jesus, we are made children of God. That’s not a “generic” title. It is deeply personal. It means that each one of you is a son or a daughter, loved by a heavenly Father who knows your name and who wanted you to be born.
What greater gift could we receive?
St. Paul used to say, “What have you got that you have not received?”
This is the spirit of the Eucharist, which as we know, means “thanksgiving.” We worship God by giving thanks to him. In the Gloria of the Mass we pray, “We give You thanks for Your great glory.” We thank God for being God, for being our Creator.
When we receive our lives as a gift, we can give our lives as a gift. We can walk with others in their suffering, open our homes in hospitality, and give generously to those in need, never expecting anything in return.
There is much sadness and injustice in the world. Many have been hurt and disappointed, and many are frustrated that they do not have what others have.
As Christians we are called to overcome injustice. But in our work for justice, we need to guard against resentment, which is the opposite of gratitude.
I think of the story of St. Josephine Bakhita, At 9 years old, she was stolen from her wealthy family in Darfur, Sudan, and sold into slavery. For more than 10 years, she endured unspeakable cruelty and terror, was beaten and tortured, sold to five different men.
Rescued by an Italian diplomat, she was cared for by the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There she was baptized at age 21. Six years later she became a sister herself, and went on to serve the poor for nearly 50 years.
Even after all she had been through, St. Josphine Bakhita lived with profound gratitude, because what she had suffered had led her to Jesus.
Later, she would recall her childhood years, before she was enslaved: “I remembered looking at the moon and the stars and the beautiful things of nature and saying to myself, ‘Who is the master of all those beautiful things?’ And I experienced a great desire to see him and know him and honor him. And now I do know him. Thank you, thank you, my God!”
Pray for me and I will pray for you.
And let us ask Our Blessed Mother Mary to help us all to grow in gratitude for the gift of her Son, to be always grateful for the gift that we have been given, of being sons and daughters of our loving God.