“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything.” – Thomas Merton
“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
Gratitude flows when we recognize the gratuitousness of God’s gift of life. Gratitude is the natural response to the abundance of God’s love, which shines forth in the variety and beauty of all creation, from the tiny snail that clings to a rock on the beach to the life-giving energy of the sun that warms the earth from which green shoots emerge in spring. In the Eucharist we give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus Christ, who died for us and rose from the dead so that we might have new life.
Gratitude is essential to life as a Christian. It inspires us to fall on our knees in thanks, to bow our heads in reverence, to give of ourselves to our brothers and sisters because we recognize the wonder of what God has done for us. Water, food, the air we breathe – all are sacred gifts.
We are children of a God of abundance. Theologian Ronald Rolheiser notes that in Jesus’ parable of the sower, God scatters his seed indiscriminately – in the road, among thorns, and on rocks, not just in good soil. God does not calculate or hoard. Instead, he gives generously. “We see that same abundance in the parable of the vineyard owner, where the owner, God, gives a full day’s wage to everybody, whether he or she worked the full day or not,” Rolheiser says.
God’s generosity is evident in his willingness to forgive the prodigal son without reservation, as soon as he sees his son returning to him. “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). And Jesus himself shows divine generosity in his forgiveness of the disciples who abandoned him and the crowds who put him to death.
What is the proper response to God’s gratuitous gifts of life and love? Each person will have a different response, depending on her gifts and the way is which God is calling her.
I spent some years away from the church. Yet I now see that God was calling to me all along. Even though I was a long way off, God was speaking to me in the moonrise over the bay, in the creeks that ripple through the Piedmont, in the tiny seeds that grow into mustard greens, and the birds that raise their young in the garden. The wonder and reverence I felt when moved by the beauty of nature were signs of God’s presence, though I did not know it then.
One reason Christians are called to care for creation is that nature is one way which God self-communicates his love. Early Christian theologians spoke of God’s revelation in two Scriptures, the Scripture of nature and the Scripture of the Bible. When we pollute the waters with toxic substances, allow topsoil to erode, clear-cut forests, choke the summer air with smog, we not only harm the ecosystems that support life, we introduce disharmony into God’s creation, silencing his music.
Pope John Paul II called for Christians to come to an “ecological conversion” of heart. One response to the gift of life is praise. St. Francis of Assisi praised God for all creation, including Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Mother Earth.
Taking time to appreciate creation restores us spiritually. “Today there is a great need to slow down the sometimes hectic pace of our days,” said Pope John Paul II. “Contact with nature, with its beauty and its peace, gives us new strength and it restores us.”
Another response to God’s gift of life is to live simply, so that others in future generations may live. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Every individual is called upon to play his or her part to … secure development in peace, in order to safeguard nature itself and the world about us….”
When we are handed a beautiful gift, entirely undeserved, our natural response is to give back. We often are moved to embrace the gift-giver. God gives us each breath we take. How can we give back to God in a spirit of love?
Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” As Easter approaches, take time to reflect on Christ’s call and how you can respond more generously.
Lent 4.5 suggests tips for cultivating generosity.
- Buy Fair Trade products, supporting businesses that respect God’s creation and pay workers fairly.
- Plant a tree native to North Carolina. Native trees contribute to the health of local ecosystems.
- Volunteer with an organization working for social justice or environmental sustainability. At St. Francis, consider participating in one of the more than 25 Justice & Peace ministries, including Franciscan Care of Creation, Dignity of Life, JustFaith, or Committee for Immigration Justice. For more information, contact Sheila Read at 919-847-8205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Give to a project you care about. Consider donating to one of St. Francis’ local partners: Catholic Parish Outreach, Passage Home, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Witness for Peace Southeast.
- Make time to enjoy nature. Pray to God in thanksgiving.