When Jim spent seven weeks in the hospital last year combatting a serious infection, he was so grateful for the chaplains and volunteers who brought him Communion several times each week. Although he was too ill to go to Mass, someone cared enough to bring Jesus to him. Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist gave Jim the strength to endure the long road to recovery.
This experience deepened Jim’s love for the Lord. Once he was back on his feet, Jim made it a point to receive the Eucharist and worship the Lord in Adoration as often as possible. He also visited the hospital chaplain to express his gratitude. But he wanted to do more than just say, “Thank you.” He asked if he could get training to become a Eucharistic minister himself.
Gratitude isn’t just something that makes us feel good. It flows out of us and leads to both worship and action. The man whom Jesus healed of leprosy returned to Jesus and worshipped him. “Glorifying God in a loud voice,” St. Luke writes, “he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him” (17:15, 16). Surely this man must have also been eager to tell others of how Jesus had healed him.
Gratitude Expressed in Prayer. We all have moments in our lives when we are profoundly grateful—when a heartfelt prayer is answered or when we experience a firm sense of the Lord’s presence or when a friend is healed of a serious illness. At those times, we know that God is at work, and it fills us with gratitude. But just as obvious blessings lead us into worship, so small blessings from God can do the same. And when you think of it, everything that we have, all that we are, is from God. We have so much to be grateful for!
Such a sense of gratitude can transform our prayer. When we come to God first and foremost in thanksgiving, we take the focus off our own problems and concerns and look first to him and all that he has done for us. Of course, we still need to talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on our minds—these are real concerns and problems. But when we begin our prayer by praising God for his goodness and mercy, it puts our problems into perspective. We can continue our prayer with joy and gratitude in our hearts, knowing that our good God won’t abandon or forsake us. Our attitude becomes like that of the psalmist: “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?” (116:12).
Such an attitude also puts us into a right relationship with the Lord. We come to him aware that we can’t do anything on our own; all that we have been able to accomplish is his gift to us. Poor in spirit, we are able to receive all the grace and mercy he desires to pour out on us.
Fortunately, as we pointed out in our first article, Scripture is filled with expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving. We only have to turn to the psalms and make their words our own: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1). Scripture is a natural place to begin if we want our prayer to open with glorifying God and worshipping him as the leper did.
The Perfect Prayer of Thanksgiving. The most beautiful prayer of thanksgiving is the celebration of the Mass, an offering of praise to God our Father for having sent Jesus to sacrifice himself for us and for sharing his very self with us. In fact, the word “eucharist” comes from the Greek eucharisto, which means “thanksgiving.”
The Catechism tells us that the Eucharist is not only “the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross.” It is also “a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation.”
In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father though the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity. (1359)
Try this: next Sunday, keep your ears attuned to all the times the prayers of Mass offer thanksgiving and praise to God. As you do, enter into that attitude of thanksgiving yourself. Spend the hour at Mass thanking God for creating this beautiful world, for giving you life, for loving you, and for saving you from sin. Try to recall the many blessings he has poured out on you, especially the gift of himself in the Eucharist.
Gratitude Expressed in Action. After the Samaritan man returned to Jesus to thank him for his healing, Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19). Beyond prayer, a disposition of gratitude often leads us to “go” and do things we might not have done otherwise. What are some of the changes that can happen when we are filled with gratitude to the Lord?
We are more merciful and loving to other people. When a woman came to anoint Jesus in the house of the Pharisee Simon, the guests were scandalized that she would bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint them. But Jesus said to them, “Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love” (Luke 7:47). We are not unlike that woman. We are sinners who have been forgiven. The more aware we are of this truth, the more love and gratitude grow in our hearts and the more willing we are to extend mercy and forgiveness to everyone around us, even those whom we find hard to love.
We want to tell people about Jesus. Consider the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). This poor man was being tortured by evil spirits to the point where he could no longer be restrained, even with chains. When Jesus sent the demons out of him, the man was so grateful that he wanted to follow Jesus. Instead, Jesus told him, “Go home to your family” (5:19). The man “went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him” (5:20). Like this freed man, when we are filled with gratitude for all the ways in which the Lord has set us free, forgiven us, and healed us, we too are eager to go out and tell others about Jesus.
We become more generous with our possessions. Look what happened in the early Church. After they had received the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus came together and freely shared their possessions with those in need (Acts 2:45). This could have only happened because of a profound change in their hearts. In light of their realization of all that God had done for them in Jesus, what they had first considered their own was suddenly seen as belonging to their brothers and sisters in Christ as well.
We become more generous with our gifts and talents. The more we recognize that our natural gifts and talents come from the Lord, the more we want to use them in his service. Look at Tabitha in the Book of Acts. A seamstress, she was “completely occupied with good deeds” and served the community of believers by making cloaks and other garments for them (Acts 9:36, 39). We all know people like Tabitha who dedicate their time and talents to building up the body of Christ. So often such people are motivated by a sense that what they have freely received as gifts from God, they are to give back by serving his people.
So what are you grateful to the Lord for? Because God has worked such wonders in your life, what are one or two things that he wants you to “go and do”? Like everything else, gratitude is a gift from God. But it is also one that we can nurture with simple practices. In our final article, let’s look at a few of these ways.