In the words of Blessed Solanus Cayce, “Thank God ahead of time.”
During the Great Patriotic War, a deeply courageous man was arrested for publishing articles in newspapers that opposed the Nazi regime. After he crossed their “tolerance limit”, they decided to end him. He was forced into a car along with other innocent Poles, who were also arrested, and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
On the way there, reality hit them, and the group was gripped by terror, fear, and pain. Everything was over. Exhausting, painful days of suffering lay ahead of them. Death stood at their door, and they knew it. However, in the midst of their horror, this brave man began to sing songs of hope—again and again he sang Polish folk songs and sacred songs of gratitude and praise to God in the highest. After a while, another voice joined him, and then another and another. Over time, he was able to free them from all-consuming longing, thanks to God and created beautiful music that touched their hearts.
This man was Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who completely surrendered to the mercy of God; a child of God who was so intoxicated with gratitude to the Father that he was ready to die so that a fellow child of God might live.
The extraordinary heroic holiness of St. Maximilian Kolbe reminds us of St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, who once said: “The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my trials, with joy”, and also St. Josemaria. Escriva, who advised: “Get in the habit of raising your heart to God in acts of thanksgiving many times a day. Because he gives you this and that. Because you were despised. Because you don’t have what you need, or because you do. Thanks to him for everything, because everything is fine.
Many of us recognize our obligation to give thanks to our Creator, from whom all good things come, but we may not realize how radically an attitude of gratitude can actually change our lives. According to some of the holiest people who have ever lived, this is the “key” to deep happiness.
According to St. John Chrysostom, “happiness can only be achieved by looking inside yourself and learning to rejoice in what is in life, and for this you need to transform greed into gratitude,” and St. is to live moment by moment and thank God for what He sends us every day in His goodness.
Probably all of us have faced hardships in our lives and traveled through dark, unknown valleys that have deeply confused and hurt us. At that time, we probably wondered if the Lord had abandoned us when it seemed that only grief was on our side. No matter how hard we tried, we simply could not feel God’s presence, peace, and comfort, and we wondered how an omnipotent, omniscient, and loving God could allow us to endure the suffering in which we were drowning.
After my twin daughters died, my mother told me: “Grandpa [a Protestant minister] always said, “Look at what you have, not what you don’t have.” have at the time. Grandpa’s words showed me that by being grateful, I can remember what our Lord has done for me in the past, and how He truly has always been by my side no matter what. Gratitude helps us see that throughout our lives, Jesus sought to be not only our Savior, but also our faithful Savior, confidant, companion, and friend.
Ultimately, gratitude is not only what a person “should” show God, but also what a person really needs do to keep their spirits up and stay healthy in body, mind and soul. This is not just a kind of duty that one is forced to reluctantly perform towards God and others. According to NeuroHealth Associates, gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier. According to their extensive research, they state that “Through the power of gratitude, you can make your brain be optimistic and compassionate, making you feel good. The more you look, the more you can find to be thankful for. This positivity can spread to others, creating a virtuous cycle.”
Study after study shows that gratitude:
- opens the door to additional and deeper relationships with other people;
- improves physical, psychological and spiritual health;
- enhances empathy and reduces aggression;
- improves sleep and increases mental strength and self-esteem.
Gratitude strengthens a person’s relationship with God, because when a person takes the time to appreciate the good things in his life, he usually recognizes that there must be a source of good from which these blessings come. For some, being grateful may be the only habit that ultimately inspires them to leave a life of darkness and seek friendship with their Creator, the King of light and hope.
Here are some practical ways to crown your days with a grateful attitude:
- keep a gratitude journal
- set aside time daily, weekly, and yearly to thank God for the blessings in your life (for example, before the daily rosary, Sunday after Mass, or Thanksgiving);
- learn to notice the positive aspects of situations and enjoy the good in others throughout the day; as well as
- keep a pitcher of gratitude during Lent or Advent in which you can write down what you are grateful for.
This year we celebrate Thanksgiving with the saints! Their words can help us shine with the glory of our Lord, the author of all that is true and beautiful. Together with St. Augustine of Hippo, we can pray: “My God, let me remember with gratitude and confess Your mercy to me”, and remember with St. Teresa of Avila: “Distinguish providence in all creation.” and the wisdom of God, and in everything give thanks to Him.”