by Father Robert Lauder
Recently, I was invited to take part in a day of recollection for the Knights of Columbus. The person organizing the day wanted me to give a talk. When he told me that the theme of the day was centered on gratitude, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation. Gratitude has become a central meaning in my own life, a meaning that I have come to see as the center of our relationship with God.
My experience has been that when Catholics think about gratitude in relation to God, they almost spontaneously begin to think of the gifts and blessings that they have received from God.
On Thanksgiving Day, for example, before sharing a big meal, I know many Catholics preface the meal with an attempt at listing what they have received from God.
There is certainly nothing wrong with that unless it suggests that they are missing the main gift that God has offered, which is God. Beyond every other gift or blessing we might receive from God, the greatest gift is that God offers us His love.
Everything that exists, everything that has been created by God, resembles God in some away. In philosophy classes at St. John’s University, I try to help the students understand that there are some qualities that every being has. Each of these qualities comes from God and is bestowed on a creature precisely because that creature has been created by God.
Good, True and Beautiful
For example, every creature is good, true and beautiful. God cannot create any reality that is not good, true and beautiful. One reason that we sin is because we find something that is a creature of God attractive, so attractive that we choose the creature over its Creator. If a sin was not attractive in some way, we would not choose to do it.
Even though I have been a priest for more than half a century and have worked with all types of people, dealing with both the very young and the not-so-young, I am still a little amazed when I meet people who do not love themselves.
I probably should not be surprised because the spirituality that I embraced for years did not stress love of self, did not even focus on it except to equate it with a type of pride. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I do not recall ever being told as a seminarian preparing to be a priest that I should love myself. My guess is that if I had been told that I should love myself, I might have thought that loving myself might be a sin against humility.
Of course, that we should be grateful for God’s self-gift to us in love becomes more obvious when we reflect on our Christian faith. No matter how long or how deeply we think about the Incarnation, we will never be able to understand it completely. God’s love of us puts our best insights to shame. God’s love for us is so magnificent that the first response to it might be awe and wonder.
Why does God love us infinitely and unconditionally? Why will God never stop loving us no matter what we do? What did any of us do to deserve God’s love? I wonder if the only answer to such questions about God’s love for us can ultimately only be something like: “That is what Infinite Love is and does.”
Reflecting on God’s love for us and our response to that love, I think of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul wrote the following:
“But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and (the) sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
“It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ (Jesus).
“Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 7-14).
Next week, Father Lauder writes about Covenant House, a place of goodness in today’s world.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.