Many of us thank God throughout the day — whether in gratitude for a goal achieved or a crisis averted, or simply because the workweek has ended. But does merely saying, “thanks” suffice? This week’s clergy discuss how to put those words into action in one’s community, at one’s house of worship and in the public square.
Msgr. Thomas M. Coogan
Pastor, St. Patrick R.C. Church, Bay Shore
For my religion the answer to this question is clear, yet it may surprise many of my fellow Catholics. The best way to thank God? Go to Mass. Jesus told us so. Many may not realize that the proper name for the Mass is the Eucharist, which in Greek means thanksgiving. In Scripture, at the Last Supper, it says that the prayer Jesus offered up was one of “giving thanks.” Then he commanded the apostles (the first priests) to “do this in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Today, very good folks attend church hoping for good preaching or music, or they may want to get a good feeling. That’s all good, but also self-gratifying. If we only go on Sunday to “get something out of it,” then we haven’t given God a thing. Better is to go every week to “give” — specifically to give God thanks for his countless blessings. It is true that daily praise and helping others (especially those who cannot repay us) are fine ways to show the Almighty appreciation. In fact, people who faithfully attend Mass do these others things, too. It’s not really an either/or. But we believe that we cannot improve on the way he himself gave us — the Eucharist.
Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet
North Shore Synagogue, Syosset
There is a poem, aptly titled “Epitaph,” by Merrit Malloy. It speaks of the pain one feels after losing someone and implores the mourner to share his or her grief with fellow humans. In Malloy’s poem, she states, “and if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. And when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give to me….”
This beautiful poem also describes how to show gratitude to God. Judaism believes that all humankind is created B’tzelem Elohim, Hebrew for “in the image of God.” Simply put, it means that each and every person has a spark of the divine that dwells within them. Therefore, when we show loving kindness to another person, we in turn show that same love and care to God. So when we are grateful to God, Judaism teaches us to perform mitzvot, good deeds, for our fellow humans.
Thankful for food? Feed the hungry. Thankful for love? Visit with someone who is lonely. Thankful for health? Donate to a medical society. God created this world in partnership with God’s creations — us. Therefore, our gratitude to God is best shown by keeping up our measure of that partnership. God created this earth. In thanks, we should care for it. God created animals and plants in a finely balanced network. In thanks, we should protect that balance. And God is each and every one of us. When we reach out to another human, we are touching God.
The Rev. Forrest Parkinson
Board member, the Long Island Council of Churches; pastoral counselor, Lutheran Counseling Center in Mineola
Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector praying in the Temple. One was a hypocrite who loudly thanked God that he was such a good person, and he left the temple without reward. The sinful Tax Collector sincerely admitted his fault and that he needed God. His humility brought him blessings. If gratitude is going to make any difference in our lives, it has to change us. Gratitude is a function of humility.
On sober reflection, how much control do we have of our circumstances? Gratitude replaces our pride and puffed-up attitudes and increases compassion for others. Gratitude is a function of spiritual growth. We understand that young children can be ungrateful, and we are annoyed by ingratitude in adults. In spiritually mature people we recognize that gratitude grows together with generosity.
Gratitude to God is an experience of awe and wonder. When we turn from our egotistic preoccupations, we experience the beauty of creation and the wonder of moral strength. This is true wisdom. To feel awe in human or natural wonders, is to be grateful for the experience. We show God gratitude by cultivating those changes, by maturing. We show gratitude by our efforts to grow in humility, compassion, generosity, wisdom and all the other virtues. The experience of gratitude changes us to come closer to our best selves, and that’s what God wants to see.