The Word — The strangest grateful

Published 6:02 pm Saturday, May 21, 2022

Recently I had the opportunity to share a special meal with my spiritual father and some friends at my mother’s house. It was one of those memorable meals that we all treasure in our memories.

We have a family dinner-table tradition of “gratefuls.” Every person at the table must find something to be grateful for. Hard? Well, sometimes maybe, but my parents lived by the advice of an old family friend who said, “Always count your blessings: if you can find nothing to be grateful for, begin with your little toe.”

This special evening, after asking the blessing, “gratefuls” went around the table as we all began to eat. We were thankful to the Good Lord for the renewal of old friendships, for bringing us together, for family love and support. Lastly it was the turn of my spiritual father.

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“I am grateful that I have need of the Mercy of God.”

It took the rest of us somewhat off guard. What a strange grateful, and yet how profound.

Firstly, it called us up to the supernatural level. Jesus became man to share with us His Divine Life and friendship, indeed Son-ship, revealing God as our Father. We were grateful for our human family, my spiritual father was grateful for the opportunity of being accepted into a spiritual family, as a son of God in Jesus Christ with all the consequences of being a son (Romans, 8:17).

Then it showed us what must be our true attitude before God. We spend so much of our time occupied exclusively with looking good, justifying ourselves, ensuring others respect our rights, etc. But we spend very little time thinking about our innate poverty and weakness which has such a proclivity to sin, about our radical need to be saved. If we do come face to face with what St. Paul terms “the old man,” the self without God, we almost instinctively turn away. We find some distraction, surf the web or post a new picture on social media. Who can face his nothingness and be grateful that he has need of the mercy of God? Only a humble soul, like the soul of Mary with whom redemption began, “My spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke, 1:47).

And God is merciful. His love for us has that particular quality: it is merciful love. Jesus came to give back the glory to His Father that was taken away by our sin. God is glorified by our needing Him. He is a father, and delights in our reliance upon Him. He is not glorified by our perfection: we often think that by being virtuous we are doing Him a favor. He is glorified by our nothingness recognizing itself and opening up to receive His almighty power. At the Last Supper Jesus tells us, “Without Me you can do nothing.” St. Paul gives us the corollary, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

Br. Maximilian Watner is on the the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham County. He can be reached at