As our nation celebrates THANKSGIVING, it behooves us as Catholic Christians to ponder what that word really means. We know that the word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word for 'thanksgiving' but most people never get beyond that.
Using the via negativa method (which Aquinas was fond of) we first see what thanksgiving or gratitude is NOT.
It is not QUID PRO QUO in the same way I pay someone ten dollars to shovel snow off my driveway. Barter or commerce is based on a mutual agreement of exchange of money, services or materials for something of equal value. The donor, unlike the merchant, acts spontaneously and gives without restrictions. The recipient, unlike the customer, is expected to realize it is a gift, not payment.
It is not mere formality or just good manners. Saying 'thank you' is a necessary component, not the only one, however. At the same time, they are not just words one should speak casually like 'hello' and 'good-bye'.
It is not an option. The Angelic Doctor says gratitude is a form of justice. We owe the giver of a gift our gratitude. To NOT be grateful is to be an INGRATE. Ingratitude is more than rude and impolite, it is also UNJUST. Morally, though not legally, we are obliged to be grateful, to express our appreciation and to demonstrate it in a tangible way (often called repaying the favor).
It is not restricted to expensive or only very valuable gifts. One should not be grateful only for big things, but as Saint Therese of the Little Flower reminds us, we should be grateful for all things, big and small, that come from the Lord.
Saint Thomas lists three degrees of gratitude in his Summa Theologica.
a) RECOGNITION of the gift or favor bestowed
b) EXPRESSION of appreciation (verbal or written 'thank you')
c) DEMONSTRATION of gratitude (symbolic or ritual)
A man reaches the first degree of ingratitude when he "fails to repay a favor;
the second when he declines to notice and indicate that he has received a favor;
the third and supreme degree is when a man fails to recognize the reception of a favor, whether by forgetting it or in any other way."
Further, ingratitude turns into the opposite of gratitude; hence:
"it belongs to the first degree of ingratitude to return evil for good, to the second to find fault with a favor received, and to the third to esteem kindness as though it were unkindness."
You and I ought to be GRATEFUL to God for creating us; for redeeming us; and for the many times He forgives us. We also ought to appreciate the many gifts and blessings He has given us. Ironically, many times we focus on what we do NOT have but what someone else has. We ENVY others' possessions while not appreciating what we do have ourselves. Saying grace before and after meals and going to church one day a week is not even the bare minimum but pathetically, it is the full extent some so-called Christians are willing to do.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme and most perfect, eloquent and proper manner in which human beings can show their appreciation and gratitude to God. The Scriptures and prayers and hymns remind us of WHAT we should be grateful for and WHY. The worship of God is HOW we express that gratitude. Kneeling, genuflecting, bowing, etc., are part of that. Giving an hour or more of your time as many days as you can is the best sign possible. This is why we do NOT go to Mass for what we GET out of it, rather, we go to GIVE BACK to God what we OWE Him, i.e., worship, adoration, gratitude, honor, etc.
If we neglect to thank human beings for all gifts, large and small, then we will eventually omit our thanks to God and vice versa. INGRATITUDE is not merely bad manners, it is an act of INJUSTICE. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, let us pray we can all be grateful to God and our family and friends for every GIFT given to us. After BEING grateful, let us EXPRESS our thanks and let us perform ACTS of gratitude as well. Holy Hours, Rosaries, Pilgrimages, Litanies, Novenas, et al. are wonderful ways to show God our thanks.
Doing unexpected or spontaneous favors for others in return for their previous acts of kindness and generosity are things we can do to each other. It is important to DO it and to allow others to do it TO US as well. This is why we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and why we exchange gifts at Christmas and why we have going away parties for people when they leave or move or are transferred.
And that simple "thank you" to the waitress, waiter, cab or bus driver, flight attendant, office secretary, postal worker, delivery-man, cashier, nurse, etc., can become more than just an exercise in politeness. Christians need to be polite because it shows RESPECT and that is one way to demonstrate our LOVE OF NEIGHBOR. You cannot love someone you do not respect. Hence, even in Old Testament as well as in Gospel times, hospitality was more than good manners. It was a sign of faithfulness to the covenant.
I want to thank by former Bishop Kevin Rhoades for his five years as shepherd of our Diocese (Harrisburg). Our loss is Fort Wayne-South Bend's gain. We will painfully miss him. Orthodox and reverent AND respectful. And while we give thanks today for all God's blessings (life, faith, family & friends), in this YEAR FOR PRIESTS I thank the Good Lord for giving me a priestly vocation and I thank him for my priests friends, especially my classmate, co-author and best friend Fr. Ken Brighenti; my mentor, Fr. Bob Levis and very dear friend and diocesan colleague, Fr. Dennis Dalessandro.