Gratitude: An Intention of the Heart
Thanking God for those who impact our lives for the better
We are born and meant to be grateful. We are endowed by our Creator with a desire to make friends and live our calling to love. People we admire and emulate gain a foothold in our lives. They speak to our hearts and become residents of our souls. We prize their involvement and investment in our lives by what they do and who they are. They provide direction and focus for our lives and help us develop an intuitive outlook on life.
They also represent a kind of moral ecology, surrounding us with something we want to embrace and imitate. We see them as connections to goodness who can help us grow into its meaning and intentions. We are becoming what we admire about them as persons of purpose and authenticity. They are visibly real, humble extensions of an interior life of quiet reflection and contentment. They inspire us by the core of who they are, believe in our possibilities and give us enough of themselves to make good on our desire to emulate them.
Gratitude connects us to these people. They are the characters who have populated my life and left decipherable imprints on my heart and good memories on my soul. They have taught me what it means to be human and how to act that way.
Relationships that help us write the narratives of our lives develop in stages and unfold as lessons undergirding gratitude. The names of these characters identify something of who I am and favor me with a sense of belonging to people who deeply matter. These relationships are introspective connections to the divine, self and others.
Divine — I think Father Kane took a personal interest in me after I consistently and flawlessly answered the assigned Baltimore Catechism questions. One Saturday, he took me aside and invited me to become an altar boy. He gradually included me inside his priestly life and tutored me in the core beliefs and ways of the Church.
Serving at daily Mass became a ritual journey in my life. I stood behind Father as he prepared the vessels and elements, vested and prayed before a tabernacle in the sacristy. Both the mystery and the solemnity began to seep into my devotions. I learned to respect and appreciate his insistence on a perfect use of gesture, posture and position at the altar.
Thus I became the “arch” altar boy, assisting at all liturgical celebrations and his silver anniversary to the priesthood. When our family moved to Minnesota, I was accompanied by his moral influence, a web of connections to his priesthood and his joy of service. I believe some of the deeper meanings of our relationship were reborn and summoned when I was ordained as a permanent deacon in 1989.
Unity of One
Self — Life is a collection we say yes, no or maybe to. What condition could persuade one to promise a yes to “until death do us part”? I was possessed by love, so I said, as the cultural explanation. However, Gail and I spent countless conversations preparing to answer this question. We ultimately came to the conclusion love is essentially breakthroughs to understanding. This other person understands what it is like to be me.
We gradually became a unity of one. We found someone who could walk around inside our life, do no harm and leave footprints of their understanding. We could exchange and respect the contents of our respective identities and esteem our dignity. We became the persons we were meant to be, cherishing the goodness of one another in good times and bad. Marriage became the fusion of our individual natures and endowments, the education of our hearts and the yearnings of our souls.
Other — My humanities professor introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed. He gradually disclosed hidden truths of this world to me. I became intrigued by the man behind the words, his humanity and his passion for his field of study. He challenged and inspired me to keep up with what he offered. Two additional courses later, he became integral to the narrative I was writing with my life. I was delighted when he walked into the classroom and was captivated by his illuminating lectures and probing questions to invite our participation. We became more than student and professor.
Gratefulness is a lifeline to joy and the mainstay in most wholesome and all intimate relationships. Joy is the unique and profuse feeling of being taken into the life of another, in some instances without them even knowing it. Admiration and appreciation may be the midwife for stepping into a space where we want to belong. Some people are a connection to goodness, grace, beauty and its realization. These persons become the basis for sacramental stories.
Gratefulness is a mentor of joy, which is exuberant and wildly exciting. Unlike happiness, joy is simple and sure, and is always waiting for us. We know it is joy when there is nothing to prove or be approving of. It is the pleasure of understanding and gaining access to something hidden deep in our soul and is the energy keeping us alive.
We are free from worry and anxiety that sap our energy and make us slaves of fear. We fear not, for what we have is an “already.” There is no peril in our life that we cannot withstand or any loss we cannot overcome. We walk together with a sense of ease, self-awareness and dignity. They are transformative, redemptive and the solidifying power of underlying empathy and oneness of spirit.
Gratefulness is also a reference point for our interior and spiritual life. It is often given short shrift in our busy world, where we want to get on with life and fill our days with the rewards of our labor and the ease of living. We look for shortcuts for feeling good because time is of the essence in a busy and success-stressed life. Gratefulness encourages us to pause in quiet stillness, reflect and draw on the energy from our relationships with God, self and others.
Gratefulness is also layered with meaning. It peels away “taking for granted” and uses the story to access layers of meaning by writing, editing and living the words. Gratefulness is a template we spread across the meaning of life and raise it to magnificent proportions. Stories reveal our awareness, attentiveness and the depth of our relationships with all of humanity.
Gratitude, when lived as an intention of the heart, connects us to God and one another. We are also joined by others with the heartfelt ways we tell and do our lives. Our stories teach us to whom and to what we belong. Stories become the forerunners of events yet to be lived and told. Gratitude is a burst of goodwill and a spark that ignites a flame in our hearts. It is a flame that burns brightly because it is fueled by love ablaze with hope.
DEACON LEN FROYEN was the associate director of diaconal formation and director of the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and is the author of the book “Gratitude: Affirming One Another Through Stories.”
Being Bearers of Gratitude
At his general audience on Dec. 30, 2020, Pope Francis offered these words on gratitude: “Let us not forget to thank: if we are bearers of gratitude, the world itself will become better, even if only a little bit, but that is enough to transmit a bit of hope. The world needs hope. And with gratitude, with this attitude of thanksgiving, we transmit a bit of hope. Everything is united and everything is connected, and each one can do their part wherever they are. The path to happiness is the one that St. Paul described at the end of one of his letters: ‘Pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit’ (1 Thes 5:17-19). Do not quench the Spirit, what a beautiful project of life! Not quenching the Spirit that we have within leads us to gratitude.”