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“Give Me One More Thing, A Grateful Heart”

December 2, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

“The proud man counts his newspaper clippings,” Bishop Sheen once remarked, “the humble man his blessings.” Counting one’s blessings is an expression of gratitude. The grateful person understands that the giver is more important than the gift, and therefore should be honored. Adam and Eve were given much, but they were lacking in the one thing they could give back: gratitude.
One may recall the lyrics to the Irving Berlin song from the 1954 movie, White Christmas: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.” Gratitude can confer benefits on the grateful recipient, namely, peace of heart. Like mercy, as Shakespeare states in The Merchant of Venice, gratitude is twice blessed.
We can become so enamored with a gift that we forget what we owe to the giver. Saying thanks is a small price for a gift. It is the best bargain that we will ever have. And yet, for reasons that are both perplexing and mysterious, people often find it either difficult or unnecessary to express gratitude.
Luke (17:12-19) recounts the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus cured. What remains most striking about this episode is not the miraculous cure (we expect that of the Son of God), but why only one of the ten returned to offer thanks. Christ asks, “Were not all made clean? The other nine, where are they?” We sense disappointment in His words. And we are surprised, if not astonished, at the nine lepers who did not see fit to offer thanks. One would think that being suddenly and completely cured of this dreadful affliction would inspire thanks. The nine lepers, however, needed to be cured on a spiritual level.
But thanks is something that springs from the heart. We cannot force another to give thanks. The metaphysical poet, George Herbert, refers to this troubling reluctance on the part of human beings to offer thanks when he writes: “Thou hast given so much to me. Give me one thing more, a grateful heart.”
“How sharper than a serpent’s tongue,” wrote Shakespeare, “to have a thankless child” (King Lear, I.4, 310-11). We wonder about how Christ was offended by the ungrateful lepers, and how God was offended by the lack of appreciation for His gifts shown by Adam and Eve.
The virtue of gratitude, as Bishop Sheen has indicated, is intimately connected with humility. We owe each other more than we can count. We are highly dependent beings, a fact that should humble us. We need gifts, beginning with the gift of life. Saying “thank you” is a recognition that we cannot make a decent life for ourselves all by ourselves. Our debt of gratitude toward others is inexhaustible.
The words of Albert Schweitzer come to mind: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” A simple “thank you” can spur us on. It is akin to the baton that relay runners pass on to each other on their way to victory.
According to an ancient Jewish legend, after God completed creation, He asked the angels what they thought of it. One of them replied that the world is so vast and perfect that there was nothing wanting except an expression of gratitude. Yet, so many are so reluctant to complete the work of creation by uttering a simple thank you. It is somewhat of a theological mystery as to why gratitude is not as common as it should be. Too many people spend more time grumbling about their problems than being grateful about what they have.
Gratitude is the choice to remain friends with God. It is doing our part, small as it is, to applaud what He has given us. It is a modest echo to a grand performance. Abraham Lincoln knew something about human nature when he commented that “we are prone to forget the source from which they [our blessings] come.” Therefore, on October 3, 1863 he issued a Proclamation establishing the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
The Civil War was still raging at that time. The Proclamation calls for thanksgiving, but it also begs God for healing: “[We] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as possible as may be consistent with the divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” While we offer thanks, in 2019, we should also ask for forgiveness to atone for all the moments in the past when we failed to give thanks.
The pilgrims are credited with inaugurating the tradition of Thanksgiving in America. In 1777, a year after the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress declared a day of thanksgiving to celebrate a Revolutionary War victory over the British at Saratoga. George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving and prayer in 1789, in part, to honor the new United States constitution. But it took the trauma of the Civil War to make Thanksgiving a formal, annual holiday.
Giving thanks during a time of turmoil may be gratitude’s sincerest form of expression. Moreover, it continues the line of development that begins with humility, passes through gratitude, and culminates in hope.
The true spirit of Christmas is often sidetracked due to shopping for presents. The true meaning of Thanksgiving is often obscured by football. Despite the formality of these holidays, we must continue to make the effort to appreciate them for what they are worth. We must remember to be thankful for all our blessings at every Thanksgiving.

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(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate Through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life, are posted on amazon.com.)

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