Effie Caldarola
Catholic News Service
May 14, 2024 // Perspective

Finding Gratitude in What is Given

Effie Caldarola
Catholic News Service

One morning, I was half-listening to National Public Radio as I quickly prepared for an appointment. Into the shower, grab the coffee, find the toothbrush, and in the midst of this, bits and pieces of the day’s news.

Then, “StoryCorps” was playing. An independent nonprofit, StoryCorps exists to let people tell their stories. According to its website, since 2003, the program has helped “nearly 700,000 people across the country have meaningful conversations about their lives.” These stories are housed in the U.S. Library of Congress.

The people who tell their stories are ordinary people, if any child of God on this earthly pilgrimage qualifies as “ordinary.”

My ears perked up when I realized the family talking in the story was journeying through the terminal illness of the family’s husband and father, who we learned at the end had died shortly after the recording was made.

His wife remarked that people would tell her they were hoping for a miracle. She resisted this, because, she said, “My whole life has been a miracle,” referencing her relationship with this man she loved.

That line captured my attention, and her comment infiltrated my whole day. I saw in her words the spirituality of gratitude.

Because true gratitude, a very deep well, is profoundly spiritual.

Sometimes in our contemporary culture, gratitude is portrayed as just another self-help scheme. You’ll be happier if you focus on thankfulness. At Thanksgiving, we enumerate our “thanks” at grace. We focus on family, success, “stuff.” Our consumer culture tempts us to glide over the richness and depth of real gratitude and to feel thankful for material things and the completion of our ambitions.

Years ago, I belonged to a Jesuit parish on a university campus. Our beloved young pastor, Jesuit Father Pat Malone, was quite ill. Because of treatments that had negatively affected his immune system, the day came when he could no longer celebrate Mass for us. I will never forget a Sunday morning, walking down the sidewalk to Mass, when we saw Father Malone, standing on the hill above us, alone outside the Jesuit residence, where he could wave good morning but keep a safe distance.

It wasn’t long before he died, but in my memory, he stands there still, a solitary figure wanting to be one with his flock. After his death, a compilation of his writings and homilies was published.

There was one line that I have carried with me ever since: “It is gratitude that ultimately asks one thing, but at a great price: fall extravagantly in love with what is given.”

Twenty-one words I’ve pondered. It is one thing to be thankful for a good test result, the pay raise, the healthy baby. It’s another to find gratitude in the hard things, the standing alone in illness and being able to appreciate the miracle therein.

What a great gift and challenge it is to fall extravagantly in love with that which is given.

Can I fall extravagantly in love with the absence of a loved one? Can I accept with gratitude the givenness of old age, of defeats, of loneliness, of the memory of sins for which I have expressed sorrow and contrition?

And what does it mean, “at a great price?” What is the coin of this realm of gratitude?

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, told us we can find God in all things. That means God is there in sorrow and joy, in loneliness and togetherness. To live into that is itself a miracle. If God is there, we are called to be thankful for God’s presence, no matter how high the price.

Effie Caldarola is a wife, mom and grandmother who received her master’s degree in pastoral studies from Seattle University.

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