Coronavirus and Gratitude to God

“If souls are humble, they will be moved to give thanks.” —St. Teresa of Ávila

James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Healing of Ten Lepers”
James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Healing of Ten Lepers” (photo: Public Domain)

What in God’s name are we to be thankful for in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic?

It turns out, a great deal.

Are you alive and enjoying this particularly enlightening article? Thank God! If not, you’d be standing before him struggling to explain your bad behavior while on Earth without the benefit of having finished this particularly enlightening article.

Are you in quarantine but otherwise healthy surrounded by family? Rejoice! You are loved by God. Thank God!

Are you in quarantine and under the weather? Rejoice! Thank God! You are near and dear to Him.

Have you lost someone dear to you? Do you mourn the loss of so many people to this virus and indeed all illnesses, accidents and old age? Rejoice in their suffering for they filled up in their own flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the Church (Colossian 1:24).

Gratitude is acknowledging, interiorly and exteriorly, gifts received and seeks to make at least some return for the gift conferred. Essentially gratitude consists of an interior disposition, a grateful heart, but when genuine it tries somehow to express itself in words and deeds. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds Christians that the “cause of debt is found primarily and chiefly in God, in that he is the First Principle of all our goods.” Therefore, it follows that we owe God due worship and piety and observance, respect, thankfulness or gratitude to his secondary agents. (e.g., our parents, teachers, doctors, scientists, cooperators, protectors, etc.)

Here’s some more advice for the world-weary on how to be grateful:

Gratitude is a result of free will. Every news segment on North Korea always points out that its citizens are punished if they don’t express utter, dissolute and utter fury at the death of one of their “Dear Leaders.” This isn’t gratitude by any stretch of the imagination. To be real, gratitude must be an expression of our free will.

Act from love. Being positive always helps. One can’t be grateful if one is a pessimistic sourpuss ― again, it defeats the purpose. Slough off the old man and put on the new (Colossians 3:9).

Gratitude is meant for givers. We can only be grateful to someone/Someone. Being generally grateful to the “universe” or some “life spirit” is worthless. You might as well thank gravity or the Universal Constant or indeed, dairy products. If you thank those lowly creatures not endowed with a soul created by the Creator, they wouldn’t realize you were thanking them thus you would only be flapping your gums for your own sake and that would defeat the purpose of being grateful at all.

Forgive others. Nursing any grudges? You might want to rethink that. Are you truly praying for your enemies or are you just waiting for a little schadenfreude me-time? We must all actively forgive your enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). You can’t get into Heaven with all those chips on your shoulders.

Woe to you if you refuse to forgive. Refusing to forgive is essentially hatred and hatred is a sin that leads to self-destruction. That’s why Jesus urges us to forgive others, if for no other reason than to prepare ourselves for God’s Final Judgement (Matthew 6:14-15). How many times do we have to listen to Christ’s Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) before we finally get it? Christ tells us to forgive the incorrigible 7 times 70 (Matthew 18:22). For those who haven’t done the math, that’s 490 times. But, admittedly, Jesus was merely lowballing the estimate for effect.

There but for the grace of God go you. All of us have something for which to be grateful and if one is truly grateful, one must help those who aren’t as blessed. You can’t be grateful for what you have if you sneer at the suffering telling them to “stay warm and well fed” (James 2:16).

Submission. Take a clue from C.S. Lewis: “If you think you’re not conceited, you’re conceited indeed.” God must increase while we must decrease (John 3:30). This isn’t optional. Compete among your enemies as to who can forgive the other faster and more thoroughly (Colossians 3:13). Pride is the opposite of humility ― just ask Lucifer.

Live simply. The desire for materialist pleasures fuels our ingratitude. Despite what Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) teaches us, greed isn’t good. If not, all we can do is embrace Ayn Rand’s selfish and insane objectivism and I’ve never heard of anyone in a burning building simultaneously calling for help and calling would-be rescuers stupid for assisting her. No funeral eulogy has ever started, “Well, she was an exceptionally selfish woman but, at least, she stuck to her guns.”

It is right and just. St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that, “Just as [the Christian] religion excels in expressing piety, so does it excel in thankfulness or gratitude.” He further explained that, “thankfulness is a special part of the virtue of justice (De Invent. Rhet. ii). After all, if one is grateful for something, one must be reverential toward the benefactor/Benefactor for the blessing.”

Conclusion. Want to be happy? Be grateful. Acknowledge and be grateful to God who is the source of all life and love. He gives meaning to this universe and to you as well. Without him, the universe would be a dark, formless and fearsome chaos (Genesis 1:1-2).

God formed this awesome universe just for us. We are the only creatures in the entire universe whom God loves unconditionally. Even the angels bow to us as we are the ones who will judge them at the End of Days (1 Corinthians 6:3).

For a Christian to grow in his faith, he must live a life rooted in gratitude. As St. Teresa of Ávila reminds us, “If souls are humble, they will be moved to give thanks.”

And, for the love of God, stop whining (Philippians 2:1-18).