Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
Gratitude nurtures the soul's spirit
Light One Candle
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
I find it remarkable that a person can appear to have so much - family, home, health, affluence, talent, success - and it still isn't enough. Time and again, people who should literally be counting their blessings seem to be so dissatisfied.
Yet every day I meet others who have far less in many ways, but who are obviously far happier. The only way I can account for the difference is that the second group has a spirit of gratitude that the first lacks.
People who have a sense of entitlement, as though they somehow deserve good things, either because they earned them or because they are innately worthy of being treated well by life strike me as having a sadly immature attitude.
It's a way of thinking which refuses to take into account how much we actually owe to other people - to say nothing of the gratitude we should feel for God's unceasing generosity.
But it is the gratitude of those who have little success by the world's standards or who have suffered greatly, that is truly extraordinary to witness.
Two spiritual writers I admire have looked at what gratitude means - and how it affects us.
The first is the late Father Henri Nouwen who wrote an account of his experiences in Peru and Bolivia in Gracias: A Latin American Journal (Orbis).
He found a great sense of gratitude among people whose difficult, often destitute lives would seem to give them every reason to feel despondent.
"I saw thousands of poor and hungry children, I met many young men and women without money, a job, or a decent place to live," he said.
"I spent long hours with sick, elderly people, and I witnessed more misery and pain than ever before in my life.
"But in the midst of it all, that word lifted me again and again to a new realm of seeing and hearing: Gracias! Thanks!"
Nouwen found that his Latin American friends received as gifts things which he took for granted. Through them, he came to realize that "everything that is, is freely given by the God of love."
The second author also believes that gratitude is "the fundamental religious emotion.
" In his latest book, The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm (Knopf), Rabbi Harold Kushner says, "God would have us develop the habit of gratitude for all the blessings of our lives, not because he needs our thanks, but because when we acknowledge those blessings, we come to feel differently about his world and live happier lives as a result. . . .
"Reading between the lines, we can infer that the author of the Twenty-third Psalm did not have a life free from pain and problems. He has had to confront enemies. He has known the feeling of finding himself in the valley of the shadow of death.
"He can praise and thank God for all that God has done for him, not because his life has been easy but precisely because his life has often been hard and God has seen him through the hard times."
Kushner concludes, "Our ability to receive God's blessings with thanksgiving will never outstrip God's ability to bless us. For those who have cultivated the habit of gratitude, no matter how large a bowl we set out to receive God's blessings, it will always overflow."
Beyond every other gift God has given us, he has given us himself. If each one of us were to truly believe that "the Lord is my shepherd" - how could we want for anything else?
(For a free copy of Christopher News Notes, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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