For most of us, our earliest experience of expressing gratitude was through our mother’s instruction, as a form of polite courtesy: “Say ‘thank you’! Say ‘thank you’!” It was an experience initially laden with the burden of social expectation, and more specifically, performed at the imperative of our parents. But as we mature and grow in self-knowledge and in awe of God, our task is to interiorize the expression of gratitude, to live in deeper awareness of God’s presence and providence and His countless gifts.
In truth, many of us are more inclined to focus our attention on our discontents and our perceived insufficiencies in the course of the day. And we glut ourselves with the tragic events and angry commentary read in newspapers and online, which only amplifies our own negativity. Today’s celebration provides a pause, an opportunity to reflect on the countless blessings that are ours in this life and the mystery of divine providence actively at work in our life.
St. Teresa of Jesus teaches us: One needs to develop a consciousness of GRATITUDE, of being aware that we have received MUCH. This requires the practice of remembrance … of who God is and of who I am.
Gratitude Deepens Love
St. Teresa writes, “Let us understand most clearly the real fact: God gives [gifts] to us without any merit on our part. And let us thank His Majesty for them, because, if we do not acknowledge we are receiving them, we will not awaken ourselves to love” (Life 10.4, emphasis added).
Elsewhere, in the 4th Mansions of the Interior Castle, Teresa speaks of the importance in meditation to make “acts of love, praising God, rejoicing in His goodness, that He is who He is, and in desiring His honor and glory. [She says] These acts should be made insofar as possible, for they are great awakeners of the will” (IV.1.6, emphasis added). Such considerations move us to LOVE.
A contemporary author, Ann Voskamp, writes on the relationship of gratitude and joy: “…[T]he feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving. … Only self can kill joy. … The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy–nothing else. … My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy” (One Thousand Gifts, pp. 176-178). Our acknowledgement of God’s blessings in simplicity renders us available to the joy of God’s love already present within us.
Gratitude to Benefactors
On this Thanksgiving Day, our Holy Mother St. Teresa would also remind us to thank God for the generosity of our benefactors, who provide for our way of life. “[We are] obliged to pray continually for the souls of [our] benefactors, since [our] food comes from them. The Lord also desires that, even though it comes from Him, we show gratitude to those persons through whose means He gives this food to us. Do not be negligent about showing gratitude” (Way of Perfection 2.10).
Gratitude for our Vocation
Several times in course of his pontificate, Pope Francis has reminded priests and religious to “always remember your first love,” to always remember the “beauty of [your] first encounter with Jesus” (Daily Meditation in Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, June 6, 2014). Likewise, St. Teresa tells her fellow Carmelites, “Understand, for the love of God, the great favor the Lord has granted those whom He brought here. Each of you should reflect upon this carefully…” (Way of Perfection 8.2).
When extolling Sr. Beatriz of the Incarnation monastery in Valladolid, St. Teresa notes: “[Beatriz] always bore the praises of God on her lips and the greatest spirit of gratitude” (Foundations 12.1). Like Sr. Beatriz we, too, are called to live not primarily in an awareness of WHAT WE MUST ATTAIN or POSSESS, but to live FIRST in our PRESENT BLESSINGS.
Finally, C.S. Lewis writes (in the voice of Screwtape advising his nephew): “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead” (The Screwtape Letters, Letter XV). The tempter wants to direct our attention always toward the future, as a means to direct our energies toward “unrealities,” and to do so APART from any remembrance of God. On the other hand, “the Present is the point at which time touches eternity” (ibid.), and still more, “each minute is given us in order to ‘root’ us deeper in God” (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Letter 333).
Let us today and everyday remember the abundant mercies of God in our life, and the power of the present moment given us to “root us more deeply in God.” May we remember the beautiful words of St. Teresa: “[God] never tires of giving, nor can He exhaust His mercies. Let us not tire of receiving”(Life 19.15).