“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” ~ St. Ambrose
When we think of gratitude, it’s easy to focus on acknowledging the things we enjoy, and showing our appreciation for them. But saints and spiritual writers reveal three other powerful ways to give thanks to God.
The word “confession” typically calls to mind the Sacrament of Penance, in which we accuse ourselves of our sins to God through His minister the priest. But St. Augustine points out that, just as the word “confession” can also mean praising and thanking God, the action of confession is also a means of giving praise and thanks to God.
“We confess whether in praising God, or accusing ourselves….When we praise God directly, we celebrate the Holiness of Him Who is without sin; but when we accuse ourselves, we give glory to Him, by Whom we have risen again” (Sermon 17 on the New Testament).
St. Thomas Aquinas notes the correlation between how much a person is forgiven, and how much he is bound to God in love and thanksgiving, quoting the story of the sinful woman in the Gospel: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Confession of sins is itself a form of thanksgiving: it presupposes that the penitent believes in advance that he will be forgiven, and is already grateful enough for this opportunity to accuse himself of his sins.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The proper form of thanks … is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them” (Orthodoxy, “The Ethics of Elfland”).
Properly using God’s blessings is itself a form of thanksgiving. It’s to recognize, beyond the blessing given here and now, the Father who from all eternity willed to give it—and to love Him for it. In fact, to use the good things of this world without moderation is to abuse them.
God gives us graces to as means to help us get to true happiness in heaven, not to be our ultimate happiness on earth. Loving God’s gifts too much is close to denying that they are His gifts at all—and it would be a poor form of thanks to love the gift more than the Giver.
- Suffering generously
I was told a story once that Pope St. John Paul II, after getting his finger jammed in a car door, was overheard by the driver saying, “Thank You, God.” I’ve never been able to substantiate this, but even if the incident isn’t true, the saintly attitude it captures is.
Accepting sufferings is difficult. St. Thomas Aquians explains: “Almighty God would in no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and so good as to produce good even from evil.” That’s key in accepting suffering: recognizing that God governs all things in power and goodness—and His loving plan sometimes involves allowing evils, like suffering.
St. Therese of Lisieux knew this: “Everything is thedirect effect of our Father’s love—difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs—everything.” We can’t forget that God allowed even His own Son to suffer “not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His,” as writer George MacDonald put it.
Suffering is an invitation from Jesus to walk with Him—not only on the Mount of Transfiguration, but also, like Simon of Cyrene, on the Way of the Cross. Being close to someone in suffering is, for a true friend, a great honor and powerful way to grow in loving relationship—something to be thankful for.
When faced with suffering, it can be helpful to recall the words of St. Francis de Sales:
The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from all eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. He has considered it with His all-knowing eyes, understood it with His divine mind, tested it with His wise justice, warmed it with His loving arms and weighed it with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.