On The Grace of Gratitude – A Thanksgiving Meditation

One of the dangers in presenting New Testament moral teaching is that the preacher or teacher risks reducing the Gospel to a moralism. In other words the moral truth that is proclaimed is reduced merely to another rule that I am supposed to keep out of my own flesh power. This is an incorrect notion since, for a Christian, the moral life is not achieved, it is received. The moral life is not an imposition, it is a gift from God.

In the Gospel chosen for the American Holiday of Thanksgiving we have the familiar story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus and only one returns to thank Him. This fact of the ingratitude of the other nine prompts an irritable response by Jesus who more than suggests that they should also have returned to give thanks. Now if we just read this Gospel on the surface we can come away merely with a moralism that we should do a better job about being thankful to God and others. Well, OK. But simply having another rule or being reminded of a rule that already exists isn’t really the Gospel, it’s just a rule or an ethic of polite society.

Where the Gospel, the Transformative Good News exists, is to receive from God a deeply grateful heart so that we do not merely say thank you, but we are actually and deeply moved with gratitude. We are not merely being polite or justly rendering a debt of obligation to say “thanks”  we actually ARE grateful from the heart. True gratitude is a grace, or gift from God which proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. In such a case we do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. This is the Gospel, not a moralism, but a truth of a transformed heart.

Thus, an anointing to seek from God is a powerful transformation of our intellect and heart wherein we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that everything we have really is. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything, literally everything, is a gift from God.

Permit a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening  awareness of gratitude. Ultimately gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of the intellectual basis for it can help to  open us more fully to this gift.

1. We are contingent beings who depend on God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell, every part of a cell, every molecule, every part of a molecule, every atom, every part of an atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every organ and movement of our body. God sustains every intricate detail of this world in which we live: the perfectly designed orbit of this planet so that we do not cook or freeze, the magnetic shield around the planet that protects us from harmful aspects of solar radiation, every intricate visible and hidden process of this earth, solar system, galaxy and universe. All of this, and us, are contingent and thus sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length and width of what God does is simply astonishing. And he does it all free of charge. As we ponder such goodness and providence we are helped to be more grateful. All is gift.

2. Every good thing you or I do is a gift from God. St. Paul says, What have you that you have not received. And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7). Elsewhere he writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us. And on judgment day we cannot say to God, "Look what I have done, you owe me heaven." All we can say on that day is “Thank You!”  All is gift!

3. Gifts in strange packages – There are some gifts of God that do not seem like gifts. There are sudden losses, tragedies, natural disasters and the like. In such moments we can feel forsaken by God, and gratitude is the last thing on our mind. But here too, Scripture bids us to look again: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good, something better. He is paving a path to glory, perhaps through the cross, but unto glory. For now we may have questions but Jesus has said to us: But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me. (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines, and make a way out of no way. All is gift!

4. Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is gift. Even our failures, if we are in Christ and learn from them and they teach us humility. For what shall we give thanks? Everything! All is gift!

5. There is an old saying: Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. I like you get asked a dozen times a day, “How are you doing?” I have trained myself to often answer, “More blessed than I deserve.” Yes, All is gift.

6. Finally, the work  “Thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. But in the Latin and the Romance Languages, the word for “thanks”  is far more tied to the fact of grace and gift. In Latin one says thank you as gratias ago tibi, or simply, gratias.  Now gratias is translated as “thanks” But it is really the same word as “grace” and “gift” which in Latin is rendered  gratia. Hence when one receives a gift they thus exclaim: “Grace!” or “Gifts!”  It is the same with Spanish: Gracias and Italian: ‘Grazie. French has a slightly different approach but no less abstract when it says Thank you as Merci which is rooted in the Latin merces, meaning something that has been paid for or given freely. So all these languages vividly record the giftedness that underlies everything for which we are grateful. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connections. About the closest we get are the words, gratitude and grateful. And again all these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, gratitude) teach us that all is gift!

To be grateful is ultimately a gift to be be received from God. We ought ot humbly ask for it. We can dispose our self to it by reflecting on things like that above but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite and transformed heart. Saying thank you is not a moralism. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished and aware of the fact that all is gift.

31 Replies to “On The Grace of Gratitude – A Thanksgiving Meditation”

  1. I have heard it said that an atheist’s worst moment is when he finds that he is thankful and has no one to thank.

    Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for this meditation.

  2. Thank you for this meditation that takes us deeper into the meaning of true gratitude. May we always be mindful of Who it is that we are thanking and that we owe everything to Him.

  3. I also wanted to share this poem by an unknown author, which I shared on my blog today, so that we may be thankful for both the good and the bad.

    My life is but a weaving
    Between my Lord and me;
    I cannot choose the colors,
    He worketh steadily.
    Ofttimes he weaveth sorrow,
    And I in foolish pride
    Forget He sees the upper,
    And I the underside.
    Not ’til the loom is silent
    And the shuttles cease to fly,
    Shall God unroll the canvas
    And explain the reason why.
    The dark threads are as needful
    In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
    As the threads of gold and silver,
    In the pattern He has planned.

  4. Happy Thanksgiving, Msgr. Pope. May your blessing be many. You have been a sourse of goodness by getting out the message of salvation. For this, I Thank You! Psalm 118: “GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD, FOR HE IS GOOD, FOR HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER. ” May God’s face shine on you, Msgr. Pope, during this holiday season.

  5. Thank you for a lovely meditation on what thanksgiving really is. I had not thought of it as a grace. I am not an American so don’t celebrate this particular Thanksgiving Day, but the act of thanksgiving should be for every day, an uplifting of our hearts to God in a constant awareness of the blessing we receive from Him.

  6. I likewise am not from the USA, therefore do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a national festival. However, this is a beautiful reminder that every day should be a thanksgiving day to God in every nation for everything He has given and gives us. Gratitude also shows up the absurdity of pride – how can any of us be proud (in the sinful sense) when everything we have comes from God, not from ourselves?
    God bless you all in the States and keep the faith!

  7. From a deeply gratedul heart, I thank you Msgr. Pope, for sharing your giftedness and the fruit of your spiritual experiences with us. Your writings have helped me in my journey. It is almost like having a friend walking with me along the path to holiness. I still have a long way to go but I am unafraid now since I have began to understand the many blessings of the painful and joyful experiences I have encountered. Everything comes from God.Thank you for taking the time to guide us, and for being God’s most valuable gift to each one of us, who either has encountered you in person or through your sharings.

  8. As always, Msgr , I have found the depth of your meditation so edifying. I have often wondered if there could possibly be a way to express in words the feeling of being truly grateful…when your heart is so full you think you may burst! Only God can gift in that manner. The only way to express that is through pure charity. And again…it is only God at work. Yes! Thank you again!

  9. Thanks, Monsignor. It is my birthday today and this meditiation (after a long day of cooking, cleaning and serving, all done with love for family and friends) was a wonderful gift to read. God bless you!

  10. Monsignor, I especially liked the use of the phrase “Transformative Good News”. The term transformative is aptly used, not merely to describe the Gospels or the writings of Paul, but also to described the manner in which we must perceive our role and being as God’s people. The quotes from Paul illustrate precisely the issue…we have no reason to boast; its all God’s gifts to us. Or as Peter put it, once we were no people, now we are God’s people. And the mystery remains that such Love manifested itself in One who gave His all for us so that we could enjoy the full benefit of all the gifts freely given to us. And yet we are not to be bowed under in submission, as though we are miserable creatures undeserving. The transformation is that we accept the challenge to live as God’s Chosen, as God’s Beloved and freely accept and joyfully accept and in thanksgiving accept the gifts given to us human beings…gifts not even given to the Angels.


  11. One of my vows is a Vow of Gratitude. You can find it by searching on this website. And there is a lot of other things to find there, too, for the thinking Catholic:


    I believe that gratitude is God’s favorite emotion in us. I also believe that God can be grateful to us, such as when we heal someone through scientific means. Then, he doesn’t have to change the laws of physics by doing a miracle; we have done the miracle ourselves.

  12. Thank you for such a thought-provoking meditation. This is appropriate every day and I hope to refer to it often.

  13. I am grateful to be alive. Why did the archdiocese not promote the Vigil for Nascent Life led by the Pope that is happening right now? I see nothing at adw.org nor have I heard anything from last Sunday’s Mass?

  14. Non nobis, Domine, Domine, non nobis, Domine
    [Not to us, Lord, not to us]
    Sed nomini, Sed nomini, tuo da gloriam.
    [But to Thy name give the glory]

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