Godtalk: Gratitude


Gratitude is the ultimate virtue, under-girding everything, even love. It goes with holiness, defines maturity. We are mature to the degree that we are grateful. But what brings us there? What makes for a deeper maturity? Ronald Rolheiser OMI suggests ten major demands in human and Christian maturity.

Be willing to carry more and more of life's complexities with empathy.  Few things in life, including our own hearts and motives are simply good or simply bad. Maturity invites us to understand, and accept this complexity with empathy so that, like Jesus, we cry tears of understanding over our own troubled cities and our own complex hearts.  

Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind. Any pain or tension that we do not transform we will retransmit like electric cords that simply pass on the energy that flows through them. In the face of jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred we must be like water purifiers, holding the venom inside us and giving back clear water.

Let suffering soften rather than harden our souls. Suffering and humiliation find us all, but how we respond to them, with forgiveness or bitterness, will determine the level of our maturity and the colour of our person.

In the end there is only one condition for entering heaven (and living in human community), namely, forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest struggle we have in the second half of our lives is to forgive:   forgive those who have hurt us, forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings, and forgive God for seeming to have forsaken us in troubled times. The greatest moral imperative of all is not to die with a bitter, unforgiving heart.

To be a saint is to be fuelled by gratitude. No passion for truth, for Church, or even for God can trump the imperative to be gracious always. Holiness is gratitude. Outside of gratitude we find ourselves doing many of the right things for the wrong reasons.

We are mature when we define ourselves by what we are for rather than by what we are against, and especially when, like Jesus, we are looking on others and seeing them as blessed ("Blessed are you!") rather than as cursed ("Who do you think you are!"). The capacity to praise more than to criticize defines maturity.

We are as sick as our sickest secret, but we are also as healthy as we are honest.   Maturity does not mean that we are perfect or faultless, but that we are honest.

The resource we need for gratitude and forgiveness does not lie in the strength of our own willpower, but in grace and community. We access that through prayer. We are mature to the degree that we accept our helplessness and invite God's strength, and to the degree that we pray with others that the whole world will do the same thing.

We grow in maturity to the degree that we define family (Who is my brother or sister?) in a way that is ever more inclusive.  We are mature only when we are compassionate as God is compassionate, namely, when our sun too shines on those we like and those we do not.

In the end, we are all vulnerable, contingent, and helpless both to protect our loved ones and ourselves. We cannot guarantee life, safety, salvation, or forgiveness for ourselves or for those we love. Maturity depends upon accepting this with trust rather than anxiety. We can only do our best, whatever our place in life, whatever our limits, whatever our shortcoming, and trust that this is enough, that if we die at our post, honest, doing our duty, God will do the rest.   

While remaining completely other, God relates to us like a wonderfully loving, fully understanding parent. We are mature and free of false anxiety to the degree that we grasp this, and trust this truth.

Adapted from the Rolheiser Column Archive 2013

Peter Knott SJ