In his book Called to Life, retreat master Fr. Jacques Phillipe (see the category under his name in the blog sidebar for more posts about him) makes a point of calling each of us to remain in a state of thanksgiving, which he calls "a fundamental attitude of heart, a disposition of life, a way of orienting one's entire life" (p. 82). Now, don't tell me or others that you have nothing to be grateful for--all of us face ongoing challenges, uncertainties, worries, and looming problems, many of them quite serious, yet the fact is that many of us do live in a state of thanksgiving expressed in vibrant praise of the Giver of all good gifts. Many poor people living in the worst areas of the United States are known to give thanks and praise daily, often with tattered or well-worn Bibles in hand. Just drive around your local inner city and be observant. In sharp contrast, how funny that many of the most affluent or otherwise privileged really do not have an attitude of thanksgiving at all but rather an attitude of constant carping that they have not received the deference or attention that they claim to deserve from others.
Thanksgiving erupts in praise--sometimes a level of praise that even surprises me. That is why the charismatic renewal is so healing and so life-changing for so many of us--we first experienced in the renewal a level of exuberant praise that no one ever told us about for years or that we never before saw manifested:
Praise expresses the confidence that love is stronger than hate, light stronger than darkness, and the end of history will not be the triumph of evil but the victory of the good. Jesus said to the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich: "Sin is inevitable, but all will end up well!''
Fr. Philippe, p. 83.
It is not just a matter of the victory of good at the end of world history (although that is surely true) but also of the victory of good at the end of our personal history on earth. We praise God because he will bring our personal lives to a good end. (In many ways, I am often puzzled and surprised by the amount of attention religious people devote to speculating about the end of the world--my friends, your personal world is guaranteed to end very, very soon. We call it death. The mortality statistics can give us a pretty good time range for our personal eschatology, assuming that most things go well in the meantime.)
A life marked by fundamental gratefulness to Adonai and to others opens our eyes to reality. It is not a flight from reality but a deeper entry into reality. It is in fact our cynicism, disillusionment, and despair that cover up reality. Reality is shock full of the good and many goods if we open our eyes to look and discover. Living eucharistically, in a state of thanksgiving, is the way to see what is most real around us. Such gratefulness will issue in praise:
As Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the [Catholic charismatic] preacher of the pontifical household, says, "Praise immolates and destroys man's pride; he who praises God makes a sacrifice of something that is all-pleasing to God: mankind's self-praise. The extraordinary purifying power of prayer resides in this. Humility is hidden in praise.
Fr. Philippe, p. 85.
All the great terms of the equation are connected: gratitude opens our eyes to the ever-present Good and His goods (whether such goods are other people or nature in general or things in nature). This gratitude will have a flavor of our not meriting such goodness and so leads to a sincerely felt humility. On the way to this grateful humility, as a by-product, our pride diminishes. As I like to say, we can start putting our pride, ego, and vanity in our back pockets and increasingly forget about their neurotic demands. Then comes the great pay-off of authentic freedom and joy that no longer depend on feeding the monster called ego.