HENRITZE: How can we grow in gratitude?

November 22, 2022

Most Catholics know that the word Eucharist comes from a Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist truly is the greatest gift we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, can receive here on earth, and gratitude is the proper response to a gift. There are two questions we must ask ourselves first, does the response of my gratitude equal the gift, and second, how can I grow in the virtue of gratitude?

To answer the first question, it’s important to remember that different levels of gratitude are appropriate for different situations. When someone sees you walking up to a building with arms full of bags and holds a door open for you, the proper level of gratitude is to simply say “thank you.”

But what is the proper amount of gratitude we should have towards God, who has given us everything? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that when we approach the virtue of gratitude, we should not have a mindset that views it as an “equality of things” but rather an “equality of wills.” This means the disposition of the giver must be taken into account before the gift itself.

In the case of God, His disposition is that of unfailing love and compassion for us, His children. It is because of this love that He has bestowed upon us the gift of the Eucharist and the gift of salvation. Although nothing we do can equate to the gift that God has given, Aquinas tells us that “gratitude always inclines, as far as possible, to pay back something more… If, however, we are unable to do so, the will to pay back is sufficient for gratitude.” We cannot, in gratitude, give to God more than He has given us. But we can seek to match His disposition. Since He gave His life for us, the virtue of gratitude demands that we give our lives for Him.

Now let’s turn to the second question, how can we grow in the virtue of gratitude? The first step to growing in virtue is to separate yourself from its opposing vice. In the case of gratitude, its opposite vice is ingratitude. St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that “ingratitude is the enemy to the soul, the evacuation of merits… it is a burning wind, drying up the springs of piety, the dew of pity, the streams of grace.” To begin to root out this vice confess times of ingratitude. This might involve both taking the sin to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confessing it to individuals you have directed your ingratitude towards.

Next, meditate on the words of Scripture. There are numerous passages that focus on gratitude and thankfulness. Spend time with those passages and ask God to reveal to you the ways in which He desires you to grow in this virtue. And finally, affirm and thank others. Strive to daily thank someone in your life for something they have done and to affirm them in one of the virtues you see them exuding. This daily practice will help you to be more grateful and to see more clearly to the goodness of God. 

Brian Henritze is an associate director of the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.

Teen Talk

What do you thank God for in your life? Why?

“I thank God for many things in my life. Some of those things are my family, friends, and the experiences I’ve had the opportunity to encounter. I thank Him for these things because, without these things, I wouldn’t be who I am today. These things have allowed me to grow as a person both mentally and spiritually.”
- Christine N., Our Lady of Lourdes (Houston)

“Every day, I thank God for the new day He has gifted me. With this new day, I am able to gift other people with the holy word of God. There are many things to be thankful for in our daily lives, but all it takes is an open mind and heart. God has given us so many gifts to be able to gift others. Be thankful for the world around us. It has many wonderful things.”
- Arielle W., Sts. Simon & Jude

“I thank God for many things in my life. Family, friends, a house, school, etc… The list goes on. God gave us basically everything we have, and it’s important for us to realize He is always there for us and loves us.”
- Matt P., Frassati Catholic High School

“The Eucharist is our Savior, Jesus Christ. I used to take the Sacrament for granted, but after going to AYC, I realized it is important. I realized that I used to see the Eucharist and just say, ‘Yeah, that’s Jesus’ without even thinking. But that’s literally Jesus! That’s our Savior who was crucified for us! I have a whole different perspective on it now. I thank God for opening my eyes and helping me to see Him in everything.”
- Michael T., Sts. Simon & Jude

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash)