THE DUTY OF GRATITUDE
Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
Our Lord says: "It is better to give than to receive." And why? Because the one who receives is bound to give thanks, whereas the giver has a right to a reward.
1. For every act of mercy done to us, we are bound to render thanks first to God and then to our benefactor; for God requires of us that we should be grateful for the benefits we receive.
It is our duty to be grateful; i.e., to show our sense of the benefit conferred upon us, and to endeavor to repay our benefactor. Gratitude is due to almighty God in the first place, because from Him comes down every best gift and every perfect gift (Jas. i. 17). Men are His servants, the instruments He employs; therefore we owe thanks to them in the second place. Whenever Our Lord received a favor from His heavenly Father He raised His eyes to Heaven, and said: "Father, I thank Thee." This He did at the raising of Lazarus (John xi. 41). He never rose from table without giving thanks; after the Last Supper a hymn was said. All the Saints did the same. David exclaims: "What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He hath rendered unto me?" (Ps. cxv. 3.) The first words Tobias uttered when he was cured of his blindness were these: "I bless Thee, O Lord God of Israel, because Thou hast chastised me and Thou hast saved me" (Tob. xi. 17). Noe's first act when he came out of the ark was to build an altar to the Lord and offer sacrifice (Gen. viii.). Columbus, when he beheld the continent of America, gave thanks to God; and in gratitude to Him he gave the name of San Salvador to the first island on which he set foot, and erected a cross on its shores. Accustom yourself to repeat the words Deo gratias or the Gloria Patri whenever any benefit is conferred on you. It is also incumbent on you to return thanks to your human benefactors as well as to God. David wished to take with him to Jerusalem and entertain at his court the wealthy old man who provided him with sustenance in the camp during the period of Absalom's rebellion. And on Berzellai declining the honor, on account of his advanced age, the king took his sons with him instead, and showed them every kindness; and on his death-bed he bade Solomon to be mindful of his obligations to their father, and let them eat at his table (3 Kings ii. 7). Tobias wished St. Raphael to accept half of all the things they had brought back from their journey (Tob. xii. 5). Even brute beasts show gratitude: witness the well-known story of Androcles and the lion. It is the will of God that we should in all things give thanks (1 Thess. v. 18). "Our Lord was much displeased with the nine lepers because they did not turn back to thank Him (Luke xvii. 17). Almighty God frequently complains by the mouth of the prophets of the ingratitude of mankind: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known Me" (Is. i. 3). St. Paul repeatedly exhorts the Christians to give thanks (Eph. v. 20; Col. iii. 15).
2. By our gratitude we obtain fresh favors, whereas ingratitude brings misfortunes upon us.
The husbandman scatters fresh seed in the fertile soil, knowing that it will yield an abundant harvest. God acts in a similar manner: nothing pleases Him more than thankfulness for His benefits. Gratitude for past favors prepares us for favors to come. God notices and takes especial care of those who acknowledge and appreciate His gifts (Ps. xlix. 23). Ingratitude, on the other hand, dams up the stream of Divine grace; he deserves no fresh favors who is not at the pains to return thanks for those he has received already. Ingratitude is a hindrance to salvation; St. Bernard expresses the opinion that nothing is so displeasing to God as unthankfulness, especially on the part of His own favored children. He that rendereth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house (Prov. xvii. 13). Judas had received the greatest kindness from Our Lord, yet he betrayed Him, and how terrible was his end! The grateful soul is a friend of God; whereas the devil takes possession of the thankless.
Ingratitude is a mark of ill-breeding and a bad disposition. It is vain to look for gratitude from the world; its votaries take as their right the benefits conferred on them; they repay them with ingratitude, nay, more, they return evil for good. How thankless was Achitophel, who after sitting at King David's table, and basking in the royal favor, joined in Absalom's revolt! Of this David complained bitterly (Ps. liv. 13 seq.). Those who are ungrateful to their fellow-men are yet more so towards God. "He who loveth not his brother whom he seeth. how can he love God Whom he seeth not?" (1 John iv. 20.) However trifling the gift may be, show yourself thankful for it.
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