On Gratitude

by Scott D. Hendricks

I wish we could already turn [in our discourse] to prayer itself; but we would rather add a little to what has been said, and consider how many diverse good things we have received from Divine grace, for the gift of which we should make a return to our Benefactor by prayer and thanksgiving.

Now I think that, even if we spent our whole life in constant communion with God in prayer and thanksgiving, we should be as far from having made Him an adequate return as if we had not even begun to desire making the Giver of all good things such a return.

Time is measured by a threefold division, past, present, and future.  In all three we receive the munificence of the Lord.  If you consider the present, it is through Him that you live; if the future, your hope that your expectations might be fulfilled is founded on Him; if the past, you will realize that you did not even exist before He made you.  Your very birth you have received as a benefit from Him; and once born, another benefit was conferred on you in that, as the Apostle says, you should live and move in Him.  The hopes of the future depend upon the same Divine action.  You, however, are master only of the present.  Therefore, even if you never cease to give thanks to God throughout your life, you will hardly thank Him for the present; and as for the future and the past, you will not be able to find a means of rendering Him His due.

Yet, though we are so far from being able to thank Him properly, we do not even show our good intention as far as we can–I will not say all day long, but not even by devoting a tiny part of the day to the service of God.  Who has spread the earth under my feet?  Whose wisdom has made water passable?  Who has set up the vault of the sky?  Who carries the sun before me like a torch?  Who causes springs to come forth from the ravines?  Who has given the rivers their beds?  Who has subjected the animals to my service?  Who, when I was but lifeless ashes, gave me both life and a mind?  Who fashioned this clay in the image of the Divine? And, when this Divine Image had been tarnished by sin, did not He restore it to its former beauty?  When I was exiled from Paradise, deprived of the tree of life, and submerged in the gulf of material things, was it not He who brought me back to man’s first beatitude?  There is none that understandeth, says the Scripture.

Truly, if we considered these things, we should give thanks all our life without ceasing; but actually human nature is almost completely involved in the pursuit of material things.  For these it is eagerly ready, with these memory and hope are occupied.  In its desire for more, human nature gives itself no rest whatever where there is a chance of gain.  Whether it be a question of honour and reputation, of abundant wealth, or of the disease of carnal appetite, in all these things nature desires increase.  Yet to the truly good things of God, both those that can already be seen and those that are promised, no thought is given.

~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer; The Beatitudes, translated by Hilda C. Graef (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1954), 24-26.