What sets us apart from the other animals and sentient beings are the gift of our intellect and our wills. This is an undeniable fact. This combination sets us head and shoulders above the animals.
What is our greatest gift is really also a double-edged sword. Whilst our intellect can grasp and comprehend in ways that are deep and profound, it is when we forget our giftedness that we sometimes end up living beneath our dignity as well. Forgetfulness can often be one of the root causes of sin.
What makes a saint is not that one has been sinless. What makes a saint is the realization that one is a sinner who needs to be standing under the brilliance of God’s mercy, and one has never allowed the self to forget that. The unrepentant sinner, however, is one who has forgotten how to be grateful for life, and harbours grudges and ill-will to many around oneself, being callous with words and unthinking in actions that end up hurting and wounding. Sometimes, the innocent parties in one’s life suffer the most from such actions. The saint is one who sees and realizes that nothing is possible without the tender mercy of God, and is constantly reminding oneself of how much grace awaits one if one only asks for it.
The forgiven sinner constantly remembers. The unrepentant sinner easily forgets. The former needs no particular reason to be thankful. The other only waits till a ‘good enough’ occasion comes about to do so.
It is a fact that the Internet has made our world a much smaller place, and my experience of being half a world away from home has made me appreciate this in a concrete way daily. Each evening at 6pm here in Washington DC, I get to download a copy of the Straits Times onto my iPad, and I am able to receive the day’s news at the very same time that Singaporeans get theirs in print form. I am not sure if it was coincidental, but I did notice that in both Saturday’s and Sunday’s edition, that there were two articles that featured the element of death and love.
While Saturday’s edition spoke of Rose Parties, Sunday’s edition featured an article written by Lee Wei Ling reminiscing about her mother. Cutting across both Rose Parties and Ms Lee’s stories are the elements of mortality, emotion and love – three things that feature richly in our human living experiences, three things which are often the fundament of what constitutes a deep and meaningful life, and three things which many do not really know how to deal with adequately and appropriately either.
I do not intend to critique these two articles in any way. I am sure that many have been touched by them, and want to do something about their relationships with their loved ones after reading them. If so, that would be something good that has come out of such articles. But there is something else that lies much deeper that causes most of us to need something like death to remind us the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of our lives and our loves. It is this – our shared sense of forgetfulness and how easy it is for us to be ungrateful in life.
The Catholic faith has always been helping her members to cultivate an ongoing sense of gratitude for above all things, God himself. It is called the Eucharist. Its etymology is from the Greek Eucharistia, which means ‘thanksgiving’. But I wonder how many Catholics enter a Church for the celebration of Mass with that purpose in mind – to be thankful. Many do go with petitions of some sort on their minds and in their hearts. And with the approaching of the school exams in Singapore, it’s a safe wager to make that good examination results are a common unsaid petition.
But one doesn’t need to have had one’s prayers answered in order to be thankful. Could our ‘business’ or ‘quid-pro-quo’ attitude in life cause us to see that only if God does something extraordinary for us that causes him to ‘deserve’ our thanks after that? It would be sad if we need constant reminder after constant reminder to be people of gratitude. I suppose, articles like the two mentioned can jolt our selective memory. Some are reminded to be grateful after attending retreats, reading spiritual books, having good ‘soul’ friends, reading meaningful articles or even getting a doctor’s prognosis that doesn’t seem terrible positive. But if these remind us to be grateful people for the kindness shown to us in life, they will go a long way to help us to be saints, or at least, be saints in the making.
So, why should we be thankful at Mass? Not just for what God has done, certainly. For who he is, and for who we are. We forget that too easily, and that is the cause of most of our sinfulness. We share a certain spiritual dementia that causes us forget we are made in the image and likeness of the one who gave us life in the first place. If going for daily Mass doesn’t inculcate in us a spirit of gratitude for everything (and everyone) in life, we would have been missing the forest for the proverbial trees.