Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 9, 2006
Gratitude leads to sharing God's bounty
The Thanksgiving holiday is not a religious occasion, although it does have roots in the religious attitudes of early North American pioneers. The Christian celebration of thanksgiving occurs every time we celebrate the Eucharist for that is what the Eucharist is - giving thanks.
Nevertheless, we ought to take special note of the Thanksgiving holiday because it accords so well with a basic attitude of our faith. More than a celebration of the bountiful harvest, our commemoration should be a time of gratitude for all that we have received - life itself, family, sorrows as well as joys, and especially God's grace.
Everything is a gift. We deserve nothing. But God continues to give. He gives grace, the opportunity for salvation and he gives material prosperity.
But too often we have the attitude of the proud Pharisee who, believing he had earned his exalted station in life, had the audacity to pray, "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like the rest of men" (Luke 18:11). Too often, we believe that those whose lives are not "a success" are lazy, irresponsible or suffering from some other moral failure. We are too ready to exalt ourselves for our good fortune and send the hungry away empty.
Such audacity betrays the lack of humility that invariably lies behind ingratitude. We believe we have made it on our own thanks to our own virtue. Not only do we lack humility but we want others to recognize us for our good works.
Catholic social teaching has a principle called "the universal destination of all goods." It means that God has created the world for all and that all deserve a fair share of the fruits of creation.
This principle is not a call for socialism because socialism involves compulsion. Rather, it appeals to our humility and to our gratitude so that we will voluntarily strive to ensure a fair sharing of the earth's goods.
But hear the frustration in federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose as she speaks about efforts to get the oil and gas industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "It is time for us to stop politely asking industry to do the right thing and we need to move on with legislation," Ambrose said.
There will be increased auditing, increased reporting and increased monitoring of the industry.
Ambrose has come face to face with fallen human nature. In an economy based on gratitude, where high profits were seen as a gift and not a right, such compulsion would not be necessary. In an economy where Thanksgiving were not one non-working day of the year, but the routine for every working day, people and corporations would look out for each other and for future generations.
St. Bernard wrote, "Ingratitude is the enemy of the soul, the destroyer of merit and virtue." As such, it also destroys social justice by forcing government to choose between compulsion and allowing injustice to persist.
Gratitude grows when we are convinced of our own moral and spiritual poverty and that we do nothing of value without God's constant assistance.
St. Bernard also wrote, "The greatest hindrance to progress in the spiritual life is ingratitude, for God counts as lost the graces we receive without gratitude and he refrains from giving us new graces."
So too with the realm of social life. Ingratitude is also a great hindrance to social justice. The belief that we deserve what we get - whether it be good or ill - leads the strong to lord it over the weak and to foster divisions, animosities and power-seeking.
Thanksgiving is a great secular holiday. It is also a crucial aspect of discipleship in Christ. People of gratitude trust in the Lord and strive to create a better life for those who sit on the margins of society.
- Glen Argan
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