Cicero, the famous Roman senator and orator once wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
The virtue of gratitude is the ability to express our thankful appreciation in word or deed, to the person whose words or actions have benefited us in some way. The truly humble and noble person will always be grateful for the benefits received. Ingratitude is an ugly sin.
How can the virtue of gratitude be acquired? Fundamentally, cultivating the spirit of gratitude requires us to develop humility. We need to understand that everything that we have and everything that we are is a gift. We might begin by taking out a pad of paper and a pen and making a list of all of the wonderful gifts that we receive each day of our entire life.
We could start with life. We have been given the gift of life. Consider the air that we breathe. We take such things as air, water and even good health all for granted. We need to consider our families, the houses that we live in, the food that we eat each day, our education, our jobs, and the fact that we live in a free country.
Once we consider the obvious gifts that we have received, we can go deeper. Take into consideration all that God has done for us. He loves us unconditionally. We have the Catholic Church, the Bible and the Sacraments. We can all remember how a Catholic priest inspired us in a homily, gave us an encouraging word in Confession, or came to visit us while we were sick.
We need to understand that we have received so much. Should we not always be grateful?
The virtue of gratitude can be expressed in very simple ways. We should always express our gratitude. The phrase “thank you” should be a common part of our daily vocabulary.
G. K. Chesterton once said: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” He also said, “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”
The French philosopher Jacques Maritain once said that “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” He is correct and it is important that we acquire good manners and social graces. The loss of morals and common decency has caused the gentleman and the lady to be something of the past.
We all know that people can be very ungrateful for the service that is given to them. How many people thank those who give of themselves unconditionally? Parents, teachers, clergy, police, firefighters, doctors and nurses many times live thankless lives. Nevertheless, the Gospel calls us to give of ourselves unconditionally and seek as our only reward eternal life in heaven. This is true Christianity. Any other posture is simply rooted in egotism.
The standard of greatness for Christianity is not earthly glory, but the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Many times we may receive appreciation and thanks from those whom we serve. Birthday celebrations, little expressions of thankfulness and gifts from grateful people should be seen as noble manifestations of gratitude. However, we must remember the example of Jesus. Only one of the ten lepers returned to give thanks for having been cured. It is important to remember, that despite the ingratitude of humanity, Jesus continued his mission until his consumatum est. His reward was the cross and the empty tomb.
When we serve with a spirit of detachment, we will walk among our brothers and sisters, even among those who have been ungrateful and hateful, with joy and a smile. The disappointments and adversities that others may cause, will purify our interior motives and allow us to focus on eternity.
There is an amusing story that reminds us that we must be grateful always. In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”
The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man is incredulous, but the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”
A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”
The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”
A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat — only the nine of us.”