Monday, October 25, 2010

The attitude of gratitude

In her column in yesterday’s national paper, the daughter of the Minister Mentor of our island republic of Singapore gave a timely reminder, very obviously in the light of her mother’s recent demise, to be thankful and grateful to many people who are often behind the scenes of the events of our lives.

In her article she went on at length to name and described some of the ways in which many other political figures helped to shape the way that Singapore has turned out. Some of the names she mentioned were lesser known, but they obviously were featured in the recesses of her memory. After reading her article, and closing the paper, I did feel something was amiss. Perhaps it was never her intention, but she did leave out an obvious group of people, and those are the people who are our adversaries in life.

It doesn’t take a lot of civility and good upbringing to be thankful in life for the people who have positively shaped our thinking and character. Teachers, life-trainers and caregivers come to mind. But I have come to realize that if in our lives, we only thank those who are contributors in a positive way, we may only become grateful when things go our way, or when we encounter obvious blessings, or when we are successful. Does this mean then that Ms Lee was wrong? Not really. What it means is that perhaps the depth and meaning of the Cross in life is something that has never really been pondered by not just Ms Lee, but by many who have yet to truly know Christ and how he saves.

To run to the Cross, and to seek out pain and suffering in life is not what being a Christian is all about. That’s neurosis. But to acknowledge one’s crosses in life, and to not hate them, not blame anyone for them, not victimizing them, and not locking them up, is maturity. It’s living wide. Catholics have long been labeled as suckers for suffering, guilt and punishment, and it’s not necessarily a bad label. We are supposed to be able to see a purpose in suffering, and that there is a virtue to shoulder our crosses, as well as each other’s crosses in life, because these are the very things that lead us through the passion of our lives, into the glory and resurrection. We have always been loath to advocate cheap grace, and there are shiploads of hawkers of cheap grace out there.

One of the ways in which we resist the offer of cheap grace is to even dare to be thankful for the pains and struggles in life, and for the seeming obstacles that are put in our way in life. To be fair, it takes a lot of purification in one’s life to come to that sort of living. This is living with a wide expanse.

Author Paula D’Arcy seems to be one such person. She had gone through so much pain and suffering in life, and in one fell swoop, in a very tragic automobile accident, her husband, together with their 21 month old daughter perished. She is a well-travelled inspirational speaker, and from her writings, I’d call her a person deeply in touch with the value of the Cross. She has come through her great cross in life, and it becomes for her the very thing that has brought her so close to God, and to see meaning in suffering and the Cross. When Jesus showed Thomas the holes in his hands after the resurrection, I am certain that looking at life through those holes must have been a very deep theology of salvation just in that one simple action. Jesus invites us always to do the same – see new life through those holes, a great symbol of redemptive suffering.

When you hear Ms D’Arcy speak in person, you cannot help but feel a very daring gratitude coming from her demeanor when she speaks of the tragedy that she went through. She knows that without the cross that she bore, seen under the shadow of the Cross of Christ, there is no real resurrection and glory. To be thankful for tragedies and struggles in themselves is not a good thing. Only masochists do that. But to literally shoulder the cross with others, in community, is a very powerful way to encounter heaven on earth.

When we are ungrateful, or insufficiently grateful in life, it can send out waves of discontent, especially when those looking at us know that we are Catholic, called to be images of Christ in the world. I read with an admixture of joy and sadness how the 33 Chilean trapped miners (most of whom are Catholic) were rescued from being entombed 700 over feet below the ground for 72 days. I saw human tenacity and cooperation at work. That brought joy. But it was only about three days later that reports came in about how some of the rescued miners were asking for money (and not paltry sums, apparently) for their story. If one has really been plucked from the jaws of death in a deep tomb and given a new lease of life, should gratitude come with a price tag? By placing any price, we immediately cheapen our lives, especially when it is a second chance that has been graciously and freely given.

It similarly saddened me to read how Celine Dion, a Catholic, is now awaiting the birth of her twins, which are the result of IVF. It’s such a pity that Ms Dion needs more reason to be grateful to God other than for her phenomenal voice and worldwide success. Her voice is undoubtedly a tremendous gift from God. Her first son was also a result of IVF, a process that the Church has always decried as putting us in the position of God. Apparently, getting one child through this method didn’t really satisfy, and it could well be a case of not having enough of a good thing.

If Ms Dion knows how Catholics need a model of faithfulness and tenacity in Cross bearing, her willingness to live in the mystery of an ‘empty womb’ borne with joy and faithfulness could bring her even more praise and peace from a world needing images of Christ, and not images of self-created joy. Ms Dion and her husband I am sure, will be very grateful when the twins are born, but could this hamper their ability to thank God for trials, crosses and unanswered prayers?

The two stories of the trapped miners and Ms Dion may seem unconnected, but what ties them together is that the world knows that they are Catholics. When the world’s eyes are on us, the effects of our actions become something that has repercussions beyond what we can imagine. Didn’t Jesus say ‘when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him’? Plenty indeed has been given to these two people. St Paul said that the life and death of each of us has an effect on others. Perhaps we forget this too easily when faced with moments of our own created joys.

The strength of our faith is seen at work not just when we are thankful when things go our way or when we have helpers who have worked behind the scenes in the unfolding of our tapestry of life. That is good manners. The strength of our faith must lie in the very difficult but necessary act of being thankful and grateful for even the crosses that we have in life, as it is often these, which bring us to the glory of the resurrection.


  1. It always pains me when a prominent Catholic (a certain Mr. Gibson comes to mind) does something that undermines the teachings of our faith.

    By this I mean that that: their action, be it IVF or something else, could be seen as "acceptable" to those whose understanding of Catholic teaching is wanting; or such actions could be perceived by the secular world as proof that ours is not a livable faith - which of course it IS.

    God Bless...

    (Btw, I didn't realise Ms Dion is Catholic)

  2. In a retreat recently, I was given the expression 'take and receive' - asking God to take and receive - my 'poverty' as well as my 'riches', the totality of my being ....gifted back to him. On reading this entry, it would seem that the same could be asked of us - "to take and receive" from God all that he has showered us with. We have no problem with the taking ( and often the using or abusing ) of such gifts - our talents, skills, our intellect, our very being, life itself. Sometimes it becomes so matter of fact that except for a perfunctory lip service of thanks we take these to be our inalienable 'right'.
    What seems to be forgotten is the 'receiving' part. For to receive involves a mindful acceptance, a conscious appreciation of them as 'gifts'. Beholding them as such, we inevitably could not fail to appreciate the Giver and be thankful and grateful for the many and varied gifts he has poured on us so that we may complement one another in the use of them. Gratitude becomes no longer an attitude but flows from this deep-felt consciousness. God bless. tessa

  3. Gratitude is not a barter but a giving.

    Jesus teaches us to pray this way "...your Kingdom come, your will be done...". This prayer is often "said" but seldom prayed prior to receiving communion. When we truly pray for our Father's Kingdom to come, aren't we asking to be a participant to bring heaven's peace, joy and love onto earth? And when we truly pray for our Father's will be done, aren't we asking to reveal in us our image of God?

    Would the miner be more ready to praise God if they knew thier rescue had brought great jubilation and hope to this Kingdom on earth? Would Celine think twice if she believed her Church was revealing a greater picture - God's will for humanity?

    I believe until we medidate on these two statements in Our Father prayer and be aware of them in our daily living, we can never fully know what gratitude is.

  4. Dear Fr Luke

    Thanks for highlighting, time and again, important lessons in our faith journey. I believe as long as one is open to learning and tries hard to do the right thing, there is always hope to do better with each passing day and lesson. Perfection is a pole position and pole positions are always hard to maintain. Keep sharing your thoughts and observations.

    God bless, "Adventurer"

  5. Father,
    I couldn’t help returning to this entry, after reading the ST frontpage today. To be honest, it wasn’t easy to identify with strong opposition against the Celine Dion IVF issue, when I first read about it here, so it lingered at the back of my mind for a while. But I see and feel strongly it now, as I ponder over the questions raised about the fate of this IVF baby in the news today.