13 October 2013

The surest way to ruin your life. . .

28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Anthony of Padua/Our Lady of the Rosary

Here’s the surest way to ruin your life: never say “thank you.” Live as if you are entitled to everything you have, everything you receive. Live as if you are responsible for your successes, your moments of greatness (large or small). Live as if you are self-sufficient, independent, in need of no help, in need of no one else. Clench you fist when a hand is offered. Close your heart when a hand reaches out. Recoil in horror when someone suggests that you could use assistance. Believe that you can do it all by yourself. When you fail there is no one else to blame. When you succeed there is no one else to credit. And when you die, you die alone. Never say “thank you” and watch your days unravel behind you like an ugly scarf snagged on a barbed-wire fence. A life of ingratitude is a life without grace, without gifts and it is a life unworthy of holiness. It is better to be a leper willing to ask God for healing than a well man who cannot/will not come to God with thanksgiving. Therefore, “in all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul writes to Timothy that he, Paul, is a criminal for the gospel, a man put in chains for preaching the Good News to Jews and Gentiles alike. And though he is suffering in chains for the sake of Christ and Christ’s body, “the word of God is not chained.” We can add here: “…and the word of God will never be chained.” Though courts, kings, governors, and states may strive to whip the Word with judicial rulings or bury it in paper prisons or poison it with the deadliest medicines, the Word will not be whipped, buried, or poisoned. In fact, Paul, noting the persistence of the Word for him, says, that because the word is not chained, “I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus…” The Word endures, carries on, lives always. And for this, we must give thanks. You must be the one healed leper in ten who returns to give God thanks, or Christ will wonder about you, “Where are the other nine?” 
Before asking how gratitude works for us spiritually, let’s take a moment to explore the possible reasons for being ungrateful. Why do we sometimes fail to give God thanks? First, we may not understand the “giftedness” or “givenness” of our lives, that is, we may not understand the fundamental animating principle of human life. My life, your life is a gift, meaning that that we exist at all is a present from God. God did not need us at the beginning of all thing. He does not need us now. And will never need us. Reality’s creation from nothing was a gratuitous, singular event, a wholly unnecessary one-time occurrence. The on-going presence of Something rather than Nothing is gratuitous as well. That we are still here is a gift. Second, the psychological motivations we need to accomplish anything often rely on the notion that we achieve our successes and that we fail in our failures. In other words, it seems that in order for us to do anything good at all we must believe that anything we do well results from personal talent and hard work. Why give thanks to someone not directly involved in the work of my success? Of course, this denies the first principle of creation: everything I am and everything I have is a gift from God. My talent, my drive to work hard, my need to succeed—all are gifts. Third, so delighted are we in our successes we often need to claim total credit in order to feel worthy of the success. If I am to succeed again, I have to come to the conclusion that I am solely responsible for that success. To do anything less is to risk a future failure. Finally, since the first bite of the apple in the garden we have been tempted to believe that we can become god w/o God. One god has no need to thank another god for anything. Our declaration of independence from the engines of divine perfection means that we think we are capable of saving ourselves. All we need for salvation is determination, the right doctrines, sufficient work, and a heart cold enough to reject any outside help offered—human or divine. We fail to give God thanks out of ignorance, pride, a cold heart, and vanity. 
Why should we give God thanks? Given what we already know about our creation—that we were created gratuitously—we can see that acknowledging our existence is first and foremost a matter of justice: we owe God our gratitude. Our thanks is due. Our thanks to God is also a matter of acknowledging the most basic truth of our lives: we are creatures created by a Creator. We are not random collections of chemical and electrical processes. We are not genetic productions accidentally generated by ideal cosmic and climatic conditions. We are beloved creatures, loved by our Creator. And as creatures loved first by God, we love back and give thanks for that love. The spiritual benefit, that is, the advantage that accrues to us when we are grateful to God is an increase in humility, an increase in our appreciation of our givenness, our total dependence on God as our Creator and Sustainer. Humility is the measure we use to determine the degree to which we are radically aware of our dependence on God. Your humility means that you know you are a gift given for no other reason than to love and be loved.

Here then is the surest way to ruin your life: fail daily to give thanks to God. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you are entitled to everything you have, as if you were owed everything you have received. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you alone achieved all of your successes, as if you orchestrated all your moments of greatness. Go day to day through your life utterly alone, in need of no one, in need of nothing but your own ingenuity and hard work. Grit your teeth when help is offered and say, “No, thank you.” Lock up your heart when a hand reaches out and say, “No thanks.” Shrink back in disgust at yourself and everyone around you when you fall and refuse help. Know in your ungrateful heart that you can do it all by yourself. 
Or, you can be trustworthy. You can be grateful and flourish in blessing. You can be the one healed leper who returns to thanks to God. You can be Naaman, who is healed in the Jordan, his flesh like the flesh of a little child. And you will be the one to hear Christ say, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Our Lord has revealed his saving power to the nations. Whatever you do, do not be among the nine ungrateful hearts who think that their healing is an accident. There is nothing accidental about the Cross, or Christ’s death for us on the Cross. He died on purpose, with a purpose. For us, he died knowingly, freely. And because of his love for us, we are free. Give thanks to God and make your life, this life right now, a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving!


  1. Thank you, Father. That first paragraph was an apt description of a good many years of my life. I liked your detail of possible reasons for ingratitude in para. 3, and how you immediately boiled those down at the end of the paragraph. Right into the next paragraph, which I very much appreciated, I liked how you began with "why" and then provided the benefit we would receive - selfish creature that I am, it smooths things out to know what I get out of it ;-). And, thank you for the beautiful line: "Your humility means that you know you are a gift given for no other reason than to love and be loved." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

    I think the seriousness of the fifth paragraph was well-placed and well-played. It brought me back to your opening, reminding me of how incredibly easy it truly is to fall back into that trap of ingratitude - and why I don't want to go there again. And a hearty "Amen!" to the final paragraph, again, showing the absolute beauty which exists in being thankful.

  2. That appositive you stuck on the last line ("this life right now") was a nice touch.