Gratitude and Apocalyptic Shock Treatment
Most of us—under extreme circumstances—are capable of committing atrocities. The moral difference between pulling the trigger of a rifle in battle and pulling the same trigger in the act of murderous rage is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.
Many years ago, a veteran of WWII, a Catholic, approached a priest with a variation of what is now known as post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). His wartime acts of vengeance tormented him, and he could find no relief. The priest rightly directed him to the confessional. But the profound healing that comes with forgiveness and the restoration of God’s good grace calls for even more: a spirit of thanksgiving.
The lone leper in the Gospel illustrates how thanksgiving fulfills the spiritual life. Jesus cures ten lepers, but only one returns to offer a homage of thanks. The other lepers were likely grateful for the cure, but only one returns to give Jesus the recognition He deserves. Jesus rewards him with the promise of salvation: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Lk. 17:19) Gratitude completes his healing in union with Jesus.
The spirit of thanksgiving is elusive as it is necessary. The comforts of a consumer society place a high bar of expectations. Our complaints are relentless and often petty. Doctors cure or manage infirmities to stave off physical decline. Yet it isn’t uncommon to hear many complaints about the most competent of them: “Why can’t the doctors do something for me!” It’s good advice to avoid families squabbling over a will after a funeral of a loved one. An entitlement mentality distracts us from our innumerable gifts and spawns sins of ingratitude.
God hates sin. Every sin affronts an all-good God in unimaginable ways. In the Old Testament, God’s wrath flares with the sin of false worship and every form of wickedness. He wipes out the enemies of Israel that threaten their faith. His flood destroys a wicked world, and His fire-and-brimstone incinerates Sodom. God’s creation and care for His people demonstrate his love and mercy. His wrath sets the scales of justice right.
Jesus is the Incarnation and mediator of the Father’s mercy. “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (Jn. 12:47) He redeems us by His Cross and Resurrection and opens the gates of heaven to us. His mercy allows Him to reveal a far more terrifying punishment than the temporal punishment of fire and brimstone: the eternity of hell.
Jesus warns, “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt. 5:22) “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk. 9:47-48)
Soon after the Resurrection, Jesus appoints His first priests as confessors, breathing on them to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive sins in His name. In a good Confession—however brief—God forgives all sin and restores us to sanctifying grace, saving us from eternal punishment. God has made it relatively easy for a thoughtful Catholic to obtain forgiveness with the certainty that Penance provides.
But penitents are often (usually?) oblivious to the gravity of the favors granted by God in the Sacrament of Penance. Like the nine lepers, we go our way without a deep sense of gratitude that consciously brings us into the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, the mercy of Jesus prevails. He continues to forgive sins—above all, mortal sins that rob our souls of His grace—despite our tepid response.
The Sacrament of Penance, with the infusion of grace, is only the beginning of our spiritual and psychological restoration, as the Church’s doctrine on Purgatory suggests. Penitents with a minimum of sorrow (imperfect contrition) and a firm purpose of amendment will also endure temporal punishment, the consequence of every sin and deficiency in our love. Furthermore, a penitent’s sins may continue to haunt him. The “cursed by the memory” phenomenon is common. Embarrassed by their past, many remain silent in the face of evil. They disguise their old sins forgiven in the confessional with a pseudo-virtue, refusing to be “judgmental.” Others allow their sins to continue to eat at them as the Devil stirs up their memories and suggests they are forever unworthy. Many are oblivious to the abundance of gifts, taking them for granted and mechanically living the spiritual life.
The spirit of thanksgiving, developed over a lifetime, recognizes our absolute dependence upon God in life and death and enlivens our spiritual integrity. Gratitude places reality into perspective. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Gratitude recognizes God’s wrath and the possibility of eternal damnation. Gratitude completes and sustains conversion. Gratitude gives credit where credit is due. Gratitude, with God’s grace, directs our love to the Savior. The Mass—the Eucharist (“thanksgiving”)—is the Sacrament of Gratitude and is the sublime source and summit of the Christian life for every grateful leper.
The last book of the Bible, the Book of Apocalypse, allays all doubts as to the integrity of the Bible, the complementarity of God’s justice and mercy, and the urgent mission of Jesus. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:14) Hell is forever and is more fearful than God’s Old Testament temporal wrath.
Periodically, we need an apocalyptic shock treatment to displace our complacent and directionless ingratitude. Our realization of our absolute dependence upon God and His saving love restores the urgency of celebrating the Eucharist—and the splendor of receiving Holy Communion.
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Posted by: jalsardl5053 -
Oct. 11, 2022 11:15 PM ET USA
Thank you for calling out the extreme importance of gratitude. It is a concept that should be more spoken about; perhaps "Catholic guilt" is partially responsible for some attitudes/approaches. In any case, it deserves much more attention in a careful manner. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”