By this devotion of thanksgiving we can do three things: promote the glory of God, advance the interests of Jesus, and help in the saving of souls.
Thanksgiving gives God glory
First, as to the promotion of the glory of God: He has chosen to rest His glory in great measure on the praise and thanksgiving of His creatures. Thanksgiving was one of the ends for which He created us.
Neither is there any matter in which He is as defrauded of His glory as in this, and none consequently in which He looks more for reparation from His faithful servants.
No one ever thanks Him with devout intention who does not at once and thereby give Him glory. I said that joy came of thanksgiving; and the spirit of thanksgiving seems not only to accompany the joy that is a special fruit of the Holy Spirit but also to be manifested in all the special devotions that have to do with joy.
Those who have had a special devotion to St. Raphael, the angel of joy, have generally had a more than usual gift of thanksgiving. We see this even in the book of Tobias, without coming to the examples of the saints most devoted to that dear spirit, as St. John of God, the Blessed Benvenuta, St. Giacinta Mariscotti, and others.
“Father! He gave joy,” says young Tobias about St. Raphael. When Raphael is about to make himself known, he says to them, “Bless ye the God of heaven; give glory to Him in the sight of all that live, because He hath shown His mercy to you. For it is good to hide the secret of a king: but honorable to reveal and confess the works of God.”
Again, “When I was with you I was there by the will of God: bless ye Him and sing praises to him.” Again, “It is time that I return to him that sent me: but bless ye God, and publish all his wonderful works.”
Probably as he parted from them, he let them see a glimpse of his angelic beauty, as they immediately went into an ecstasy of three hours, and what it left behind was the spirit of thanksgiving. “Then they, lying prostrate for three hours upon their face, blessed God; and rising up, they told all his wonderful works. And Tobias the elder, opening his mouth, said, ‘Give glory to the Lord, ye children of Israel. See what he hath done for us, and with fear and trembling give ye glory to him, and extol the eternal King of worlds. Bless ye the Lord, all his elect, keep days of joy, and give glory to him. Jerusalem, city of God, . . . give glory to the Lord for thy good things.’ ”
Then, how beautiful was his close, after the angel had left his mantle of joy and thanksgiving on the holy old man! “The rest of his life was in joy; and with great increase of the fear of God, he departed in peace.” Indeed the joy lived after him, and there was joy instead of mourning for him; for it is said, “And after he had lived ninety-nine years in the fear of the Lord, with joy they buried him” — a joy like that which is so often found in religious houses, when God has called one of the community to Himself and which is sometimes almost a scandal to externs who know not the deep unearthly spirit of the cloister.
Thanksgiving assists Jesus
Secondly, thanksgiving gives us great means of furthering the interests of Jesus. What was there upon earth that He sought more vehemently than His Father’s glory?
Although it is said of Him that He knew what was in men and would not trust Himself to them, yet He vouchsafed to appear surprised that only one of the ten lepers returned to give thanks to God.
How full also of mystery is that outburst of thanksgiving on His own part, when He thanked His Father, and confessed before Him, because the Father had hidden His mysteries from the wise and prudent, and had revealed them to babes.
But there is one way especially that I would venture to suggest as a means of promoting the interests of Jesus, and that in a most loving manner and with little trouble to ourselves. It is by assuming to ourselves a little apostolate to spread the practice of thanksgiving.
There are few of us who do not influence some others, children, or servants, or friends. Let us teach them to make more frequent, more systematic, more fervent thanksgiving. Let us say a seasonable word for this practice whenever we can. If each of us persuaded five people, in honor of our dear Lord’s Five Wounds, to make daily thanksgiving, these five would in turn spread it to others, as the ripples spread on the surface of a pond; and, anyhow, how much would Jesus rejoice at this harvest of God’s glory from thousands of souls making daily one act of thanksgiving more than they otherwise would have done, one Deo gratias, if it were nothing more.
Think of all that is involved of grace, merit, glory, worship, praise, acceptableness in one Deo gratias said with devout intention; and yet with but a little exertion we could send up to the blessed but outraged majesty of God in each year thousands of these supernatural acts!
Why do we let so much that we could do for God slip by without a trial? What a homage of love to Jesus would this easy apostolate of thanksgiving be! Let us begin at once, this very day; for time is flowing from under us, and we have kept God’s glory waiting long enough.
Thus also in schools and seminaries, and in domestic families, especially where there are many young children, out of whose pure mouths God has ordained His praise, little associations might be formed to say some quick prayer of thanksgiving daily by themselves and where it seems feasible to make some little act of thanksgiving in common, as well as to endeavor to put more of a thoughtful intention into Grace before and after meals.
The object of these little associations might be to thank God generally for all His goodness to His creatures, or especially for the Incarnation, or again for His mercifully giving us Mary to be our Mother as well as His.
A Catholic school might thus unite morning and afternoon in a little act of thanksgiving for the gift of the most holy Catholic Faith; and thus the children could at once bless God, make reparation for apostasies, and also themselves gain a habit that would be an effectual protection to them in the temptations of later life.
These associations might be connected, if it was thought well, with devotion to the holy angels, whose life is one incessant song of grateful praise, and thus the virtue of purity, the attendant gift of this devotion, might at the same time be fostered in the souls of the youthful members.
If we think aright of the glory of God in one word, if we love Him, these things will not seem small, nor their blessings insignificant. We have much lost time to make up in this matter of thanksgiving.
Oh, what glory cannot one man get for our dearest Lord, if he only lays himself out to do it! St. Jerome, while he lived in the East, often heard the oriental monks intoning their doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” It took root in him, and he asked Pope Damasus to establish it in the Western Church, where, humanly speaking, but for him it would never have been used.
Who can count the million millions of times that doxology has been used in the West with loving and devout intention? Look how often it comes in the Divine Office.
Now, every time St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said it, she accompanied it by a mental offering of herself to the Most Holy Trinity and bowed her head, as it were to the block to be martyred for the Faith.
Whenever St. Alphonso, in his old age, heard of some good news for the glory of God or the welfare of Holy Church, he cried out with heartfelt emotion, “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”
Great things are told us of the devotion of the Blessed Paul of the Cross to this doxology, and he taught the same spiritual devotion to his religious.
The lives of the saints would doubtless furnish us with many other devotions of heroic love that have been connected with this doxology.
Yet, if St. Jerome had not one day asked Pope Damasus to introduce it into the Western Church, all this glory would have been lost to God. When men do anything for God, the very least thing, they never know where it will end or what amount of work it will do for Him.
Love’s secret, therefore, is to be always doing things for God and not to mind because they are such very little ones. “Cast thy bread upon the running waters; for after a long time thou shalt find it again. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening let not thy hand cease, for thou knowest not which may rather spring up, this or that: and, if both together, it shall be the better.”
Thanksgiving saves souls
Thirdly, this devotion would be of great help in saving many souls. We ourselves by the practice of it should gain such favor with God as would enable us to impetrate graces that are far above the feebleness of our present prayers. We should see such things happen! Such a throwing open of the treasures of God’s mercy, such inundations of grace, such obstinate hearts overcome, such new benedictions poured out over the whole Church!
Then, again, by making daily reparation to God for the ingratitude and unmindfulness of sinners, we would appease His anger against them and thus avert from them many judgments and chastisements, both spiritual and temporal.
It is astonishing in how many indirect ways God lovingly allows us to cooperate in the salvation of souls. Would that we were more ingenious in finding them out and more unwearying in the practice of them. Poor souls! We have given you scandals enough; would we could at least equal them now by prayers and by thanksgivings! It does not seem as if the Precious Blood were half our own, till it has become yours also.
May we never forget that there may be souls on earth whose glory God has tied to our zeal and prayer! There may be a dear soul whom God has loved from all eternity and decreed to call it out of nothing in preference to millions of souls He might have created instead; a dear soul whom Jesus thought of by name upon the Cross and offered for it with distinct oblation all His sufferings; a dear soul for whose company Mary yearns in heaven; and whether or not it shall see God, and be His king and priest forever, clothed with incomparable beauty, and crowned with inexpressible gifts, and plunged in an everlasting sea of joy has been hung, by an adorable venture of divine love, upon my unconscious prayer! What an amazing, and also what a ravishing, possibility!
Ah, Lord! When did I see Thee hungry and did not feed Thee; thirsty, and not give Thee a drink? May His answer never cease to sound in my love-frightened ear: “Inasmuch as thou hast not done it unto the least of these my brethren, thou hast not done it unto me.”