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Gratitude: The Safeguard of Humility

One of the two soldiers who had to lead him caused him all possible sufferings. He was forced to make long marches, was exposed to the rays of the sun, to the rains and the cold of the nights. His body, already weakened by several severe illnesses, finally broke down[.] … In the morning Chrysostom had asked to rest there on the account of his state of health. In vain; he was forced to continue his march. Very soon he felt so weak that they had to return to Comana. Some hours later Chrysostom died. His last words were: Doxa to theo panton eneken (Glory be to God for all things). [1]

Humility means conformity with the truth (ST II-II q161). The truth is that every good comes from God. None is good but one, that is God (Mk. 10:18), and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (Ja. 1:17). Therefore, a life of thanksgiving to God is in conformity with the truth. The proud rebel against the truth and thus live a life destitute of gratitude. Unhappy sinners, they are consumed in lies as their minds are darkened by transgressing the truth. The just man who knows the truth will give glory to God for all things.


The first gift of God is existence itself. Thy hands have made me and formed me (Ps. 118:73). What did you do, O Man, before you existed to deserve your existence? Before you existed, you were nothing. Bergamo observes:

God has shown His creative omnipotence by forming me out of nothing and making me a human being. Were God to withdraw his omnipotent preserving hand from me I should at once show what I am capable of when left to myself, by returning immediately into nothingness. [2]

We say in the creed, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Not only are you created by God, but your very existence at this moment is preserved by Him. Were He to withdraw His will for your existence at this moment, you would cease to be. God brought you into being on account of His great mercy and preserves your existence now according to His mercy. Give thanks to God for all things.

Election to Grace

Our creation in the natural order is a mercy from on high. Our recreation in the supernatural order is a grace from the Hand of God.

If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, For without me you can do nothing (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God (II Cor. 3:5). [3]

You have the true faith. You are in the state of grace. You are a Catholic. But this is not because of you and your merits, but the grace of Almighty God who shows mercy to sinners. Do not take pleasure in seeing the ignorance of poor sinners while you have the truth, for the truth is a gift from God.

Did you receive holy baptism while still an infant? Then what did you do to deserve it? Did you receive holy baptism after a life of sin? Then what did you do to deserve it? It was the priest who said over you: “Depart from him, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate” [4].

He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Col. 1:13). In the beginning darkness was upon the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2) just as you were nothingness before God called your soul into existence. So too in the laver of regeneration (Tit. 3:5) God has said to a dead man, Lazarus, come forth (Jn. 11:43) and to a sinner, Zacchaeus, come down (Lk. 19:5). What did you do to deserve your calling to eternal life? As David says, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? (II Kings 7:18). Give thanks to God for your election to grace.

Good Works

If you have been called forth out of nothing, and called to eternal life and been converted to the truth, you must have faith and works in order to be saved. As it is written, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6). Have you overcome sin? Have you advanced in virtue? Have you shown mercy to the poor?

If you have done any good work, this is the work of God. Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory (Ps. 113:9). This is the reason for the rule of the saints: “To refer what good one sees in himself, not to self, but to God. But as to any evil in himself, let him be convinced that it is his own and charge it to himself” [5].

It is false humility to deny your virtue. If it is true that you have virtue, have the humility to admit it. But do not exalt yourself as the proud man and say, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican (Lk. 18:11), for this thanksgiving is abhorrent to the Almighty. But give thanks, rather, to the One who has worked this good in you. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will (Phil. 2:13). Or as the Doctor of Grace proclaims: Your good merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His own gifts.[6] Give thanks to God for your merits are His gifts.


If God has transformed your weak will into that which can merit eternal life, what can you do with your own power? Nothing but the nothingness of sin. This is what your own will, apart from the grace of God, is sufficient of itself to do. Therefore, it is pride when, finding yourself in sin, fall into great vexation at your propensity to evil. Rather, even then give thanks to God.

“See, O Master, what I am able to do. When I rely on my own strength, I commit nothing but sins … O Lord, I would not have stopped at this had not Thy goodness restrained me.”

Give thanks to God, and more than ever give to Him the complete love of your heart. What generosity on His part! You have offended Him and, despite this, He extends His hand to prevent another fall. With your heart full of confidence in His infinite mercy, say to Him: “O Master, show forth Thy Divinity and pardon me! Never permit me to be separated from Thee, deprived of Thy help; never permit me to offend Thee again!” [7].

It is the mercy of God that we are saved from damnation after mortal sin. Since sin darkens the intellect, it immediately leads to more sin. If you have fallen, give thanks to God for preventing any further sin. Give thanks to God that He has revealed to you what you can do with your own power. Give thanks to God that He has given you contrition for your sins.

Final Perseverance

The grace of final perseverance is the final gift of God in this life. The Council of Trent proclaims:

[W]ith regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written: He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved, which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands, that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God’s help. For God, unless men themselves fail in His grace, as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish. [8]

And thus canon 22 states:

If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.

Give thanks to God that He had not revealed to you your final state. For if you were certain of eternal life, you would fall into brash presumption of mercy and commit all manner of sin. But if you were certain of damnation, you would despair and be consumed in wickedness. Either way, you would be consumed in yourself and forsake the God who made you.

Instead, God has asked you for faith, hope, and charity. In this He has called you out of your vain desire to control the future. He has humbled you to accept His designs. He has promised you mercy and the grace to be contrite. Receive him, O man, and do not despite his gifts. Be humbled and give thanks for his merciful love.

This is why the Eucharist — evcharistia, “thanksgiving” — is the “the source and summit of the Christian life” [9]. A humble life in accordance with the truth cannot be other than a life of gratitude to God for all things.

[1] C. Baur, “St. John Chrysostom,” Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)

[2] Bergamo, Humility of Heart, 14

[3] Synod of Orange (529), Canon 7

[4] Rite of Baptism, At the Door of the Church

[5] Rule of St. Bendict, Ch. 4

[6] St. Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, ch. 15

[7] Dom Scupoli, The Spiritual Combat, ch. 26

[8] Council of Trent, Session 6, ch. 13

[9] New Catechism, 1324

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