There are big spiritual rewards if we can appreciate what comes our way through suffering and blessings that suffering often reveals. Mother Teresa taught us this when she said, “Gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.” She did not say we have to love the problems themselves, but to accept them with joy. A friend taught me this years ago when he shared his story for the Amazing Grace for Families book after losing his only son. After the death of his beloved son Josh, Steve Cates felt angry with God. “Steve,” his wife Cathy said, “we can’t be angry. Think of the gift God gave us for twenty-six years. We’ve talked about all the good things about Josh. Look at what we’ve had.” In an instant, Cathy’s words cut through his anger. “God does not want us to be thankful for everything, he wants us to be thankful in all things,” she said. “Then you will look up instead of looking down.” It did not take away their sadness, but gratitude helped with the grieving. Of course, in such a heart-wrenching experience, it seems unthinkable to feel anything close to gratitude. I don’t know that I could do that, or at least not right away. But I know these people personally and the conversation took place within days of their son’s death. St. Padre Pio embraced his own suffering but when people came to him wanting to add suffering into their lives, he told them to stop that. God will give us all the suffering we need, he explained. We just needed to respond with acceptance. Gratitude offers a way to find joy in the midst of difficulties. I have found it to be a two-step grace. First, offer up the suffering since when aligned with the cross of Christ, it is an offering that can answer prayers and draw us nearer to God. The second step is gratitude. I have never said: Thanks for my suffering, but I can find endless appreciations within suffering, from having a roof over my head and food in my cupboards to my Catholic faith and the graces the suffering will bring.

Fr. Kovash on Gratitude

During a retreat, Father Russ Kovash, pastor of St. Joseph in Williston, ND spoke on “Gratitude is the Virtue That Changes Us.” He shared how gratitude changed his life to the point that he now thanks God for the things he used to complain about. The transformation came eight years ago through the “rosary of gratitude” he learned from his friend Patty Schneier who had a spiritual director recommend it to her. “I won’t go to sleep without praying it now,” he said. It is simply prayed by taking a rosary and thanking God for something on each bead of the five decades — from the smallest to the biggest blessings. “When gratefulness is alive in our hearts,” Father Kovash said, “it lends itself to three fruits: a deep abiding peace and joy, a tremendous increase in the awareness of God’s crazy blessings in our lives, and those two things result in a great passion to do God’s will and build up his kingdom.”

Our Obligation

Gratitude is not just good for us, but God actually commands it of us, Father Kovash explained. Many Scripture passages teach us that we are obligated by God to thank him, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
He also pointed out that in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass we say: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just." Praying the rosary of gratitude is life-changing, according to Father Kovash. “There have been many fruits, and it has brought me deep abiding peace and joy in my life to see how ridiculously good God has been in my life,” he said. “I thank him today for blessings that 8 years ago I would not have even thanked him for or maybe I would have complained about them.”
Copyright 2019 Patti Maguire Armstrong