It’s been said that gratitude is disappearing from the «affective landscape» of modern life. The well-known essayist Jose Antonio Marina recently recalled that the footsteps of Nietzsche, Freud and Marx have left us plunged into a «culture of suspicion» that makes gratitude difficult.
We mistrust a gesture brought about by pure generosity. According to the professor, «it’s been made a dogma of faith that no one gives anything free and that every apparently good intention hides a fraud». It’s easy therefore to consider gratitude as «a sentiment of fools, of the mistaken, or of slaves».
I don’t know if this attitude is very widespread. But it is certain that in our «commercial civilization» every day there’s less place for what’s gratuitous. Everything is bargained, borrowed, owed or demanded. In this social climate gratitude disappears. Each one has what they merit, what they’ve earned with their own effort. No one gives anyone anything.
Something similar can happen in our relationship with God if religion becomes a kind of contract with God: «I offer you prayers and sacrifices and You guarantee me your protection. I fulfill what’s stipulated and You reward me». In this way disappear from the religious experience praise and thanksgiving to God, the font and origin of everything good.
For many believers, recovering gratitude could be the first step in healing our relationship with God. This thankful praise doesn’t primarily consist in singing God’s praises or in enumerating the gifts we’ve received. What’s first is grasping God’s greatness and God’s unfathomable goodness. Intuit that we can only live before God giving God thanks. This radical gratitude to God generates in us a new form of seeing ourselves, of relating with things and of living together with others.
The thankful believer knows that their whole existence is a gift from God. The things around us acquire a depth once ignored; they aren’t there just as objects that serve to satisfy needs; they are signs of the Creator’s grace and goodness. Persons we meet in our path are also gift and grace; by means of them God’s invisible presence is offered to us.
Of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one returns «glorifying God», and only that one hears Jesus’ words: «Your faith has saved you». The joyful acknowledgment and the praise of God are always a source of salvation.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf