As the days grow shorter, the weather colder, and the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect. Corresponding with this opportunity, we find ourselves in the season of Advent. We may be tempted to think about the challenges of the present, the ways in which we have not lived up to our goals such as not achieving our New Year’s Resolutions. I challenge you, however, to seek Hope. We are a Resurrection people! Beautifully, the Advent season finds us here. It is at the end of the year, we are presented the opportunity to hope!

The Thanksgiving holiday provides Americans an opportunity to look to our blessings. It can encourage us to think with gratitude about the ways we have seen God working in our lives. Just after Thanksgiving and right before Advent, our Church year begins anew with the Feast of Christ the King. Instead of the falling into the temptation to judge ourselves, or look with dread upon our missed opportunities, let us begin this season of Advent with gratitude and with hope.

Why Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful tool for fostering our mental and physical health. To learn more about the incredible health benefits of practicing gratitude daily, check out our blog on Cultivating Gratitude. As Catholics, we know that our whole health and flourishing involves not only our mental and physical health, but our spiritual health as well! Fostering a habit of gratitude offers just that.

               In his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” St. Paul’s advice here is easy to follow and understand when we are experiencing periods of ease or peace.  However, how much more should we practice this call to radical gratitude in seasons that are more difficult? Let’s look to some advice from the Saints on the impact gratitude can have on our Spiritual Health and perhaps learn a bit more about its value in difficult seasons of life.

Advice From The Saints

All Saints of Heaven
Fra Angelico, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Gratitude helps us love God more

In her dialogues, St. Catherine of Siena writes, “thanksgiving makes the soul incessantly delight in Him; it frees men from negligence and lukewarmness altogether and makes them anxious to please Him more and more in all things.” When we become accustomed to thanking God for the ways he is working in our lives, we are becoming more aware of the ways the Lord is intimately  involved in our lives. In this daily remembering, we become mindful that we are in fact willed by God. This understanding helps us to trust that we are not forgotten, and should be desirous of being in relationship with the one who loves us, and who desires our good. What a beautiful gift!

Gratitude helps us to surrender

St. Therese of Lisieux famously wrote, “Jesus does not demand great action from us but simply surrender and gratitude.” By practicing gratitude, we more fully realize that God is God, and we are not. This hopefully aids us in a growth in humility, and ultimately in the ability to surrender our own plans to that of the Father. As mentioned above, through gratitude, we become more able to see that we are loved by a good God. For, as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, “What man of you, if his son ask’s him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). This act of trust, which fosters an authentic relationship, allows us to trust that God’s plan for our lives far surpasses our own.

Gratitude helps us to have authentic human relationships

Blessed Solanus Casey’s famous saying, “thank God ahead of time” is often followed with his other equally important point, saying, “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature; ingratitude leads to so many breaks with God and our neighbor.” When we practice gratitude, as mentioned above, we grow in humility and our need for a Creator. This process redirects our thoughts, helping us to seek the truth and goodness we are created for. This is what our reason is made for, to seek the good. In practicing gratitude, we then become more human because of our greater awareness of the good the Lord created us to receive and seek. When we seek the good, we desire to share it with others. Gratitude then helps us desire to share our joy, to share our pursuit of the good and the beautiful with others. This is a beautiful and necessary gift for our world!

Let us join in this mission, of the ‘great cloud of witness’ and practice gratitude. We can, as St. Catherine of Siena reminds us, “set the world ablaze” by our conviction to live the path of holiness. What better time to begin, than this Advent season.