Why is gratitude important and what does it mean to live gratitude?
St. Francis of Assisi said:
“Love is not loved.”
This means God, the one who loves us unconditionally and has blessed us abundantly, is not loved by us in return. He has given us the greatest gift of all, life, and loves us without reservation. How can we deny him our love in return? God deserves our love above all else, and the best way to show our love is through gratitude.
However, our gratitude for the Lord needs to go beyond words or courtesy—it must be lived. Everything we do should be done out of gratitude to God. This is the mission of the Franciscans of Mary.
The Franciscans of Mary was founded by Father Santiago Martin in 1988. It is an order of both religious and lay people based in Madrid, Spain. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI gave pontifical approval and officially recognized the charism of gratitude. The pope then granted final approval of the statutes of the institution in 2012. Currently present in forty-four countries, the Franciscans of Mary spread the spirituality of gratitude through imitation of the Blessed Virgin and St. Francis of Assisi.
The Spirituality of Gratitude: The Blessed Virgin and St. Francis
In the Blessed Virgin we find the best teacher of how to love Jesus without selfishness or fear. Her entire life was lived out of gratitude toward God. It is through her example that we learn to take care of the Christ present in another’s suffering; help another to learn about him; and defend him from attacks of the enemy without and within the Church. Just as the Blessed Mother was there for her son as he died on the Cross, we can also accompany Jesus to the Cross and unite ourselves with him in our own pain and suffering, offering it for the salvation of the world. We want Christ to feel his mother’s presence and consolation here on earth through our actions and faith.
Similarly, it was to St. Francis of Assisi that the Lord revealed his pain because men did not love him and only came to ask things of him. St. Francis offers us the example of how to love the Church and be missionaries for God. His poverty shows us the importance of living austerely in order to help the needy with our possessions. His love for the Church serves as a guide for evangelization and defense of the Church. With these two important figures as models, we learn how to best live a life of gratitude and spread the message that loving God is a privilege, not a burden.
Living gratitude is more than saying a quick “thank you” to God when he answers our prayers. It is taking the feeling of being blessed undeservedly and turning it into a living thanksgiving to the Lord by being a blessing to others. This can be done in many different ways (evangelization, works of charity, prayer, the defense of the Church) but the motivation for it is always the same—out of gratitude to God. Everything we do should be guided by the prayer:
“For you Jesus, out of gratitude to you.”
This helps put Jesus at the center of our activities as well as guide us in our decisions throughout the day.
Spreading the Spirituality of Gratitude: The Schools of Gratitude
Evangelization is an important part of gratitude—teaching others of God’s love and the need to show appreciation for that love. The Franciscans of Mary have developed the Schools of Gratitude as the means through which others can learn and spread the spirituality of gratitude. To truly appreciate what we have been blessed with, it is necessary to study all God has done for man.
In the Schools of Gratitude, we learn about the Catholic Faith in order to become a living eucharist, or a living thanksgiving. Meetings are held weekly and begin with a brief prayer. This is followed by the teaching for the week, which is taken from either a formation topic or a portion of the Sunday Gospel. A purpose, or goal, from that teaching is then given for all members to incorporate into their daily lives for the week. The results of this are then shared at the next week’s meeting. The meeting ends with a brief prayer and through these weekly lessons, we learn to live a life of gratitude.
A New Appreciation
I can say from personal experience that attending the School of Gratitude has deeply impacted my life. Until two years ago, I felt I was missing something in my spiritual journey. I attended Mass regularly, was a cantor for my church, attended church functions, but still felt something was missing. I asked one of our parish priests, Fr. Antonio Gutierrez, if there was a way for me to learn more about the Catholic Faith. He suggested I attend the School of Gratitude. Between learning more about my faith and how to focus my life around gratitude I began to strengthen my faith, although I did not realize it until earlier this year.
My father was diagnosed with a terminal illness at the start of the new year. I watched his health and vitality rapidly deteriorate as the disease progressed. Nothing happens by chance, and I now know that God was using the School of Gratitude to prepare me for this time when I would need to rely on him, his strength, and the moments of light I have had in my life to see me through. I was still able to be grateful, even in the midst of my sorrow, for what I had been blessed with—my wonderful parents, our parish family and friends, all of the prayers and support my family received, my family’s good health.
In a way, my father experienced his own passion and I began to appreciate anew what the Blessed Mother must have endured watching her son suffer and die on the Cross. When my father later passed away, I was secure in the knowledge that he was in Christ’s peace. Now I am able to see daily the things God does for me and it comforts me.
How to Start a School of Gratitude
We live in selfish times and God is often put on the back-burner of society. With all the hashtags and social media talk of being thankful, how many people are truly grateful? It is easy to be thankful when things are going well in our lives, but how about when we receive that scary diagnosis, or lose a loved one, or have financial difficulties? In good times and bad, there are always things to be thankful for if you look hard enough. You can continue to pay your debt of love to the Lord, and he in return will lift you up.
When you learn to live gratitude, although you will still experience suffering, you will experience it from a different perspective. In your suffering you will learn to unite yourself with Christ’s suffering, and in doing so he will ease your burden. Hardships will still happen, but they will not break you because you will learn to recognize God’s work within those hardships.
I encourage you to experience this for yourself. Start a School of Gratitude of your own and help the Franciscans of Mary spread the spirituality of gratitude. Let’s challenge the statement “Love is not loved” and show God our love and gratitude for his blessings!
For information about the Schools of Gratitude, please contact Fr. Antonio Gutierrez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about the Franciscans of Mary, please visit their website.
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Heidi Blumenstock is a Franciscan of Mary and member of the School of Gratitude at Saint Joseph Church in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s degree in both music and psychology as well as a master’s degree in communicative disorders. A speech therapist turned stay-at-home mom, Heidi cantors and is the choir director for St. Joseph Church. She enjoys spending time with her son, husband, and extended family and is an amateur photographer and avid reader in her spare time.
Featured image by ohnhain (pixabay.com)