Thought of thankfulness, thanksgiving and offering of thanks are repeated in the Bible many times, all 195 times. The author of Psalm 116 relates, "How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? (Ps 116, 12).
Isaiah also reminds the people of giving thanks to God for all that He has done for them (Is 63: 7). Paul advises the Colossians to treat each other with gratitude: "Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another” (Cl 3:12-13).
This article is the English version of the Vietnamese article on the same subject “Sống tâm tình biết ơn khác việc tổ chức mừng dịp tạ ơn”, written by the same author, published earlier in www.mucvuvanbut.net on the same section.
As for the virgin Mary, she gave thanks to God for He had done great things in her by setting out to serve her elderly cousin with child (Lk 1: 39-44). When still on earth, Jesus often taught his disciples to live the spirit of gratitude. Sitting at dining table, Jesus took the bread and gave thanks (Mt 15:36, Mk 8: 6; Jn 6:11). When instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he also took bread, gave thanks (Lk 22:19), and took the cup and gave thanks (Mt 26:27; Mk 14: 23).
Jesus also gave thanks to God the Father for he had given the little ones knowledge of the mystery of the Kingdom. While those wise and intelligent, are not able to receive it. What was revealed to some was hidden from others.
Then, what is the difference and why is there a difference in wisdom and intelligence with the human mind? What God reveals to a human being in the Bible is the common treasure of humanity, that is, anyone can buy a Bible to read God's Word, if he /she has money. However, only those, who open their mind and heart and only those, who humble themselves before the supernatural power of the Most High, can receive his word.
That is the meaning of the word of God in the Gospel of Matthew: "Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to merest children" (Mt 11:25).
That is why Blaise Pascal wrote: "The God of Abraham, Israel and Jacob is not God of philosophers, wise men". Pascal was a wise man, mathematician, physicist, debater and philosopher, who said that. Born in France in 1662, he was an orphan at the age of three. His father was a famous mathematician, personally raising him and his two children, bringing them to Paris when he was eight. Witnessing the miracle of Marguerite Périer, a 10-year-old sister, who was healed of tears, he wrote the Pensées, expressing his faith: "Scio cui credidi" (I know I put faith in the Savior), a work considered one of the masterpieces of French literature. At the age of 18, he suffered from frequent headaches. At the age of 24, he was affected with paralyze, having to use a cane. At his lifetime, he volunteered to live an ascetic life. His famous quotation is often quoted as: "The heart has its own arguments that reason does not understand" (Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne comprends pas).
Before closing his eyes for good at the age of 39, he asked to be anointed and he prayed, "May God never abandon me." Pascal’s spiritual and intellectual life was admired by many popes. On July 8, 2017, Pope Francis approved the process of beatification of the philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Thus, is it God who keeps secret, not to allow wise and learned people to know about the mystery of the Kingdom of heaven? If God does so, it seems to be unfair to them, since it is God who created them. Actually, God reveals himself to everyone, but only those who are humble and open themselves to what is supernatural are receptive to his word.
God created a person, but God gives that person the freedom of choice. Wise and learned people, who are prone to pride, often do not want to depend on God. When one does not want to depend on God, it is at that moment that the mystery of the Kingdom is hidden from them. When one's mind is filled with what one considers to be his, then the heavenly things have no place to enter. On the contrary, those wise and learned who are humble and keep their mind and heart open, can come to God to receive the mysteries of the kingdom. They are big in mind, but small in heart. Being small or little in the biblical sense means simple, humble, and dependent and trusting in God.
Spirit of gratitude comes from spirit of simplicity, humility, dependency and trustfulness
The spirit of simplicity, humility, dependency and trustfulness will arise from the spirit of gratitude to God. Thanksgiving expresses the need for necessities, wanting to depend on God. It is a mindful thought of a person: "When you drink water remember its source" or "Don’t forget tree planters when you eat its fruits”. To be able to come to God and to trust in him as a child putting trust in his or her parents, one needs to have the virtues of a child as simplicity, humility, dependency and trustworthiness. When growing up with wealth, understanding and authority, one has one of two options. First, one is less dependent on God, no longer depends on him. The second option is one still wants to depend on God, depending on the degree to which one is attached to wealth, power or wisdom. The spirit of gratitude shows itself on the face, in the attitude and gesture of a recipient of the gift toward the donor.
A person with arrogance and deceit cannot possess the spirit of gratitude. A person with the spirit of gratitude begins with gratitude for small gifts, then with greater gifts, not just with greater gifts received. As for smaller gifts - talents and riches received - one tends to ignore them, or be dissatisfied to receive them. When a person is thankful to God for gifts received: either big or small, he/she wants to remember God, wants to depend on him in everything.
Spirit of gratitude prolongs throughout the day or lifetime
The spirit of thanksgiving is a consciousness that one must have throughout the day and night and the lifetime: meaning 24 hours each day. Thus, the spirit of thanksgiving is a mindful thought that is always in the mind of every person in every situation and circumstance of life when awake, when at work, when asleep, when at leisure, when eating, when drinking. As for an act of thanksgiving as a word of thanks or an act of thanks, it happens only at a certain moment of a certain day.
If anyone asks how to express the spirit of gratitude when one is asleep? The answer is with the spirit of gratitude, one can sleep in the presence of God and under the protection of his angel. Thus, the spirit of gratitude will show in mind, wish, word and deed, in eating and drinking – i.e., eating and drinking under the presence of God and in the spirit of thankfulness.
Each person has many reasons to give thanks. The gifts that most people receive in common, is the gift of being born as a human being, the gift of having a home to live, a job to work, a meal to eat, a school to attend, and the gift of faith. Each person also receives various gifts and talents such as public speaking, poetry writing, music, singing, literature, science, arts and sports. Talents and gifts received from God must be developed and used to give praise to God and to serve his people.
The spirit of gratitude is a consciousness of one’s frail, fragile, and sinful nature, yet is helped and forgiven by God. Thus, a person with the spirit of gratitude elicits a spirit of repentance and atonement for sins, when realizing that sin has been forgiven. Struggled with bad temptations, a person with the spirit of gratitude may wonder why God has led him / her step by step through masses of dark clouds, covering his / her mind and heart, struggles between his/her reason and heart so as to attain to this day. People conscious of thanksgiving often ask them why they are inferior to friends of the same age in many aspects of life such as intelligence, talent, means and family background, that now they get so and so. People with the spirit of thanksgiving often think how God has protected and rescued them through pitfalls and dangers of life.
For practical application, each day of life, one should give thanks to God in words and actions. Gratitude must be the frame of mind and spirit one should have daily, hourly and minute by minute. For instance, one gives thanks to God for a beautiful day, with warm sun light under the blue sky, dotted with white clouds, and gentle breeze and melodious sounds of birds singing. One gives thanks to God for a good sound sleep, relaxing the mind. One gives thanks to God for a good meal. Many people dare not give thanks to God for a good meal lest they would break a virtue of self-denial and sacrifice.
Traveling to the United States of America, visitors often hear words of thanks or apology. A word of praise which one person says to another one for anything, a word of thanks would return from another one. If somebody touches somebody else unintentionally, that somebody would hear a word of apology. Perhaps an act of thanks to one another should remind one of thanksgiving to God. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one of them, a foreigner, returned to give thanks to him. Jesus asked: “Where are the other nine” (Lk 17:17). Yet a word of thanks might be lip service if it does not come from the heart or not followed by action.
The mass is called the Eucharist in Greek. The Eucharist in Greek means to give thanks. Thus, to offer the mass or the Eucharist means to give thanks. When the faithful in the early Church attended the Eucharist, they had in mind a spirit of thanksgiving. For early Christians, to come to church to attend mass is the best way to give thanks to God. Thus, to give thanks to God without going to church to attend mass would mean the Christian misses something important, short of meaning for the acts of thanks.
Spirit of gratitude eliminates feelings of jealousy, dissatisfaction and resentment
Oftentimes, when facing with hazard, illness, suffering and unhappiness, people are dissatisfied, complaining of Heaven, Buddha and God. When seeing others who have things and talents that people do not have, they can elicit a feeling jealousy. Words or attitudes of complaining, jealousy, make their eyes covered, unable to see the light of life. As a result, people adopt negative attitudes such as jealousy, dissatisfaction, resentment even against God as: Creator why do you annoy me (Thúy Kiều) or “Creator why are you so mean and cruel” (Cung Oán Ngâm Khúc). When people realize that the more they complain, the more they would feel miserable. From that point on, it might be the beginning of a journey that changes the way people look at life.
With the eyes of faith, what looks on the surface is risk, loss and suffering, can bring benefits to people in the long run or in their spiritual life. The person with the spirit of gratitude realizes when God grants somebody talents, and grants him / her to what extent, it is the freedom of God. A person who, receives more talents, will have to earn more (Mt 25: 20-23) in order to serve God and his people.
Only when living in gratitude, people can see the bright side of life. If looking around, one can see so many people, who are poor, hungry, suffering physically and mentally. Thus, people are more fortunate than many others. When people are grateful for gifts received from God, they prepare themselves to receive more God's gifts.
Spirit of gratitude expresses by helping, sharing and forgiving
Thanksgiving is expressed by helping and sharing: sharing of money, wealth and talent. Thanksgiving is also expressed by forgiving. There was a certain servant who owed his master a huge debt. Unable to pay back, he begged the master to delay paying. In mercy, the owner forgave him the entire debt. However, this servant refused to forgive his friend, who owed him only a small amount. When the whole incident was reported, his master put him in jail until he paid back his huge debt (Mt 18: 24-34). Jesus uses this opportunity to call his disciples to mercy and forgiveness as an opportunity for people to learn the lesson of the unforgiving servant.
Thanksgiving is also expressed by ignoring the faults of others who have committed offenses in their thoughts and words in daily life. Saying a word of thanks can be a lip service, if it does not come from the bottom of the heart or has no action to follow. The word of thanks will become a reality when people put into practice by sharing the gifts God has given with the needy.
On a Pan Am flight to the Vatican for the Second Vatican Council in October, 1962, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, an eloquent preacher on TV saw a beautiful flight attendant on the flight, he whispered to her ear whether she had done anything to thank God for her beauty? Later on, she went to ask the Archbishop what she would have to do to give thanks to God. Caught by surprise without preparation for an answer, Archbishop Sheen suggested that she should go to Vietnam to help Archbishop Cassaigne serve lepers for a certain period. Feeling saddened by the suggestion, she left without saying good-bye to Archbishop Sheen. Then in 1963, it was reported in the Vietnamese press that a flight attendant, young and beautiful, from PAN AM volunteered to serve the lepers at Di-Linh for six months. Was it a true report that she entered a convent after she had returned from Vietnam?
Spirit of thanksgiving is different from planning thanksgiving celebration
As discussed above, the spirit of gratitude lasts throughout lifetime. As for a thanksgiving celebration such as birthdays, silver, golden anniversaries of a wedding, vow, ordination and so on, it occurs only on certain occasions.
A celebration of thanksgiving on certain occasions can be done in accordance with social requirements. One can celebrate the anniversary, give thanks on that occasion, without really having a spirit of thanksgiving. If a person considers things, possessions, talents that he / she has as random, then he / she cannot have that spirit of thanksgiving. The spirit of thanksgiving arises from a person’s heart toward the Creator and Controller of his / her destiny.
Thus, a thanksgiving celebration with mass on a certain occasion often or annually even with a certificate of blessing from the Holy Father, without the spirit of gratitude and not living up to the will of God might not be pleasing to God.
In addition, planning a thanksgiving celebrating on a certain occasion to earn some money or to brag about some aspect of the individual or family, is certainly misapplied the meaning of thanksgiving celebration. A certain parish made a plan of the anniversary celebration of the founding of the parish three times in a row during ten years. For the third time with hope of making good money, but unfortunately it suffered a large amount of it.
Having the spirit of thanksgiving to God, without being able to help the needy, hungry and suffering, God would understand a person’s heart. To celebrate an anniversary of a certain occasion that is short of a spirit of thanksgiving, then, it is done only according to social customs.
According to Psalm 40 that reads, “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocaust or sin-offerings you sought not. To do your will, O my God is my delight, and your law is within my heart” (Ps 40: 7, 9). The words of Psalms 51 also state: “For you are not pleased with sacrifices, should I offer a holocaust, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” (Ps 51: 18 – 19).
John Trần Bình Trọng