I’m a long-time fan of Susan Muto’s writings, and have quoted her more than once in my books and articles. So, I was looking forward to her new book, Gratefulness: The Habit of a Grace-filled Life (2018, Ave Maria Press, $15.95). I was not disappointed.
In the book, Muto shares the lasting legacy she received from her Italian immigrant maternal grandmother, Elizabeth. That legacy, the gift Muto received from her grandmother, is gratefulness.
“It was her thank-you prayer,” Muto wrote in the Introduction. “I knew that she had to go through many traumatic events, not the least of which was an arranged marriage at age sixteen, the death of five of her eleven children in infancy, and the final agony of severe stomach cancer. And yet this prayer never left her lips. This illiterate peasant woman, this pillar of the Catholic faith, taught me most of what I know about finding the balance between hardship and happiness, between the best of times and the worst of times.”
Muto indeed carries on that legacy in the pages of Gratefulness, and relays it to the reader with warmth and finesse. In her chapters – Being Grateful Despite the Circumstances, Benefits of Positivity, Dangers of Negativity, Redemptive Power of Prayer, Signs of Progress in Grateful Living, Lasting Fruits of Thankfulness, and Thankful Acceptance of the Mission God Entrusts to Us – she deftly outlines the process and product of gratefulness in an entertaining and informative way. Each chapter studies the lives and gratefulness attitudes of holy men and women and concludes with reflection questions and a prayer.
“God addresses us as much in felt absence as in faith-filled presence,” she wrote in Chapter One. “The generosity embedded in a grateful heart is what stands behind acts as simple as washing the dinner dishes or as profound as a busy parent stopping to listen to a tearful child. Rather than performing chores to prove how clever or productive we are, we try to see all that we do from a divine perspective. Life is not a ledger sheet on which God adds or subtracts graces based on performance models. Both paupers and princes are pleasing in God’s sight. The benefits we receive, deserved or undeserved, are God’s way of showing us how much we are loved.”
The book’s Conclusion provides a 12-point list of “tried-and-true ways to foster receptivity to and cooperation with the grace of gratefulness.” It’s like a ready-reference of gratitude! My favorite is the seventh point: “Rather than asking why something happened that crushed your expectations and halted your push to attain self-imposed outcomes, beseech God t show you the meaning of what just occurred.”
The chapters themselves contain a wealth of wisdom and are accented by the Appendix: Counsels on the Grace of Gratefulness: Twenty-One Days with the Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Spiritual Masters. Within each time period, Muto cites a wide variety of both widely-known and lesser-known spiritual leaders. After each quote, she offers provocative questions for reflection and spiritual growth.
Clearly, this is not a book that’s to be read through once and relegated to the bookshelf. Rather, it’s to be kept accessible and reviewed time and again.