The Joy of Thankful Souls
The love of gratitude is preeminently a mindful love. It ponders things and lays them up in its heart, as our Blessed Lady did. It meditates fondly on the past, as Jacob did.
It sings of old mercies and makes much of them, like David in the psalms. Whereas another has the memory of his sins continually before him, a soul possessed with the love of gratitude is perpetually haunted by a remembrance of past benefits; and his abiding sorrow for sin is a sort of affectionate and self-reproachful reaction from his wonder at the abundant loving-kindness of God.
The hideousness of sin is all the more brought out when the light of God’s love is thrown so strongly on it. Hence it comes to pass that a very grateful man is also a deeply penitent man; and as the excess of benefits tends to lower us in our own esteem, so we are humble in proportion to our gratitude. But this love does not rest in the luxurious sentiment of gratitude. It breaks out into actual and ardent thanksgiving, and its thankfulness is not confined to words.
Promptitude of obedience, heroic effort, and joyful perseverance: these are all tokens of the love of gratitude.
It is loyal to God.
Loyalty is the distinguishing feature of its service. It is constantly on the lookout for opportunities and makes them when it cannot find them, to testify its allegiance to God; not as if it were doing any great thing, or as if it were laying God under any obligation, but as if it were making payment, part payment and tardy payment, by little installments, for the immensity of His love.
It is an exuberant, active, bright-faced love, very attractive and therefore apostolic, winning souls, preaching God unconsciously, and although certainly busied about many things, yet all of them the things of God.
Happy the man whose life is one long Te Deum! He will save his soul, and not his alone, but many others also. Joy is not a solitary thing, and he will come at last to his Master’s feet, bringing many others rejoicing with him, the resplendent trophies of his grateful love.
Gratitude Brings Many Blessings
God’s mercy is the great feature of the two kingdoms of nature and of grace. Gratitude is man’s answer to God’s mercy; and just as charity to our neighbor is the best test of our real love of God, so gratitude to our neighbor for his kindness to us is a clearer proof of a grateful disposition than gratitude to God, which is mixed up with so many other cogent considerations.
If we realize everything as coming from God, then these benefits are from Him; and they come from Him in the most beautiful and touching way, through the mediation of our brother’s human heart inspired by grace. Every kindness we receive is a little copy of the Incarnation, a miniature of that attractive mystery.
Gratitude increases humility
Gratitude is grounded in humility, and, as usual, increases the grace from which it takes its rise. Heroic humility fancies that wrong is the only right which is due to it. The least kindness seems disproportionately great to a keen and delicate sense of our own unworthiness. The wonder is that anybody should be kind to us at all. If they knew us as we know ourselves, they would have to do holy violence to themselves to show us common courtesy, as great violence as the saints did to themselves when they licked the ulcers of the lepers.
Gratitude increases charity
Again, what warms the heart more to others than the exercise of gratitude? Uncharitableness to a benefactor seems almost an impossibility. Lear’s daughters were monsters. Yet think how hard it is to love anyone, any single one, with real charity, without judging, without criticism, without censoriousness, extenuating the evil, believing against appearances, magnifying the good, rejoicing in his virtues.
It is much if each man has one person upon the earth to whom he really feels thus. It is an immense help to his sanctification, a real talent for which he will have account to give.
I doubt its being common, at least in its evangelical purity. Gratitude to benefactors is on the road to it, and not far distant.
Gratitude is contagious
Then again, gratitude is eloquent, graceful, and persuasive as a missionary. It is not only a virtue in ourselves, but it makes others good and virtuous also. It is a blessedly humbling thing to be loved, a veritable abasement to be affectionately respected by those about us.
Gratitude also makes our benefits to others look so little that we long to multiply and enlarge them, while it softens our hearts and unties from them all manner of little antipathies, mean jealousies, petty rivalries, and cold suspicions.
Gratitude nurtures holiness
Lastly, it is the proper and normal state of a holy creature to perfect himself under the continual feeling of obligations that he never can repay. This is the relation between the Creator and himself.
Meanwhile to all the evil and baser parts of our nature it is a real mortification to have the sense of obligation pressing upon us. It is the sign of a vulgar man that he cannot bear to be under an obligation.
Thus, in both ways the sense of obligation is a great part of sanctity. A grateful man cannot be a bad man; and it would be a sad thing indeed, if either in the practice or the esteem of this virtue, the heathen should surpass the disciples of that grateful Master who, to the end of time and in the busy pageant of the judgment, will remember and repay the cup of cold water given in His Name.