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. So 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.
This article is adapted from a chapter in The Little Book of Holy Gratitude by Fr. Frederick Faber, which is now available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.