By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
Most of us would never think of stealing someone else’s property. We would never want to sink that low. Yet all of us, at one time or another if not habitually, steal from God—and we are hardly ever aware of it. This, of course, needs some explanation: God does not stop showering upon us his most precious gifts, but upon every gift package he has put a label: RETURN TO OWNER BEFORE USE. You may wonder what this oxymoron means. How can I use the gift if I have to return it before using it? This does not seem to make any sense.
Here is what I have in mind. God’s gifts are the many different talents I have received: material, intellectual, spiritual, and ultimately my very self. Returning them to him before using them means that I acknowledge in thanksgiving all that I have received from God.
My thanksgiving is sincere if I give them back to God and learn to use them as he wishes me to. I tell him: “Lord you have given me my life, health, intelligence; my spouse, my children, my friends, my country; in fact, the entire world. I want to love you so much that I give you back all that I have, all that I am; I want to receive them only from you again if you so decide.” Some people may think this is an absurd mental game; for us Christians, and for all who believe in a loving God, on the other hand, this is a simple recognition of reality: I return the goods in my possession to their legitimate owner. Besides, this prayer brings me joy and peace. If I receive everything from God’s hands every day, they become more precious to me with time.
God cannot be outdone in generosity. His response may be verbalized in words like these: “You gave me, or at least you tried to give me, all that you have and all that you are. It is true that at times, for your good, I take away a few things to which you are very much attached. But in addition to yourself, I return to you someone infinitely greater than you are: my son. He will teach you how to be truly grateful and how to really offer yourself to me, because he will unite your offering to his infinite love and thanksgiving.”
But one word of caution is in order: our thanksgiving can easily become vitiated. The Pharisee also gives thanks. He thanks God not for his gifts, but for not being so low and wicked as the rest of humankind. In other words, he rejoices because everyone else but himself is evil. But before we throw the first stone upon the Pharisee, we should ask ourselves: Did I ever think about a person in such terms as, “I am, of course, no saint, but I am glad that I am not that bad as this acquaintance of mine?” By saying this, I reveal my perverse joy over evil: “There is at least one person worse than I am.”
If I find someone truly low and wicked, I should rather tell God: “Lord, have mercy on him as you had mercy on me. You led me and constantly lead me back to repentance and new life; please do the same to him. He is also your child and my brother.” God loves this kind of prayer, and listens to it: if earthly fathers appreciate when one sibling asks a favor not for himself but for another sibling, how much more does God the Father?
Through such a prayer our thanksgiving will be purified and become most pleasing to our father in heaven.
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.