Published: November 25, 2010
Diogenes Laertius, in his “Lives of Eminent Philosophers,” quotes Aristotle as asking, “What soon grows old?” His answer, “Gratitude.”
As we prepare to celebrate our national day of Thanksgiving, we might ask ourselves how thankful, how grateful we really are for all that God has given us, and whether or not our gratitude has grown old.
At some deep level, human beings seem uncomfortable with being grateful for very long, at least to other people. We don’t really like being “beholden” to others, even to those who have done us enormous good, for very long. All too often, we ask, “What have you done for me lately?”
Since the fundamental Christian attitude toward God is gratitude (pardon the rhyme), Christians need to fight such sinful attitudes, not only with regard to the thanks and praise that we owe to God “always and everywhere,” but also to our fellow men and women, our brothers and sisters, on whom we depend for so much, including those who are no longer with us.
We owe a great deal to our forebears. As Americans, we need to acknowledge the achievements of the pilgrim fathers (and mothers, of course), who came to the New World to pursue their vision of a “city set on a hill.” It is easy to find fault with their idealism, or to take note of their blindness to the rights of indigenous peoples. But it would be wrong to ignore their considerable achievements in taming the wilderness and laying the foundations for this great republic.
As Americans, we owe a great debt to our veterans, to those who have defended our freedoms over the centuries. We acknowledged this debt on Veterans Day. We should do so again, in prayer, on Thanksgiving. If we were a truly grateful people, we would not confine our appreciation of those who defend us to a parade on Veterans Day, but would see to it that they actually receive the benefits promised to them on our behalf.
As Catholics, we are the beneficiaries of the many sacrifices of those who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith.” Our many institutions established to heal and educate the larger community would not exist without their heroic efforts. And yet we often take our schools, hospitals and other charitable institutions for granted, so much so that many are in financial straits and in danger of closing. If we were truly grateful for what we have been given, we would make equal sacrifices to continue the work so nobly begun by previous generations.
If we were a truly grateful people, we would find ways to feed the hungry not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but every day of the year.
If we were a truly grateful people, we would not allow any of our brothers and sisters to be compelled to sleep under bridges or on the streets, night after night.
If we were truly grateful to God, we might forego the shopping binge of Black Friday in order to meet the needs of his suffering children, our brothers and sisters.
If we were truly grateful for the gift of life that God has given us, we would so appreciate the lives of each of our brothers and sisters that we would never cease in our efforts to protect those lives, from conception to natural death.
It may well be that gratitude tends to grow old in our fallen world. But our Lord Jesus Christ has endowed us with his grace and invited us into his great act of eucharistia, of thanksgiving to God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, so that for us as Christians our gratitude is—or ought to be—ever new.
Father Douglas K. Clark, STL, is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Port Wentworth. This column was reprinted with the permission of The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah.