Father William Byron, S.J.

“Always and everywhere” is a fairly comprehensive expression. Some might say it is dimensionless. I’m not setting out here to measure the immeasurable; I’m just suggesting that whoever composed the preface to the second eucharistic prayer expected Catholic worshipers to live in a state of gratitude, to be characteristically grateful.

But, always and everywhere? That seems to be expecting more than any of us mere mortals is capable of doing.

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.”

It is indeed appropriate, and a duty as well, for all of us to be grateful, to give thanks to God. If not “always and everywhere” in a quite literal sense, we can and should, the church seems to be saying, cultivate within ourselves — mind, soul and heart — an attitude of gratitude.

We all know people who are characteristically optimistic. We enjoy being around others who have a positive outlook on life. It is reassuring to know that those you love also love you and can be counted on to be there for you — always and everywhere — no matter what. Always cheerful, always reliable, always dependable.

Why not always grateful?

That’s a goal worth setting for ourselves. And the “always and everywhere” dimensions of that state of thankfulness may not be so out of reach as one might suspect.

Gratitude is bedrock, foundational, not just in religion and worship, but in the project of living a fully human life. The practice of our Catholic faith turns around the idea of gratitude.

Eucharist is at the center of it all, and “Eucharist” means thanks-giving, thanks-saying, thanks-doing. Too bad that more of us do not cultivate that attitude of gratitude and permit thankfulness to emerge from within to shape both our outlook and behavior.

You cannot be simultaneously grateful and unhappy. Is all the unhappiness in the world an indicator of the enormity of our gratitude deficit? Personally and collectively, that problem is worth looking into.

The old American vernacular used “much obliged” as an expression of gratitude. Is declining Sunday Mass attendance in the American Catholic community an indication of an erosion of a sense of obligation or of a loss of a sense of gratitude? Either way, something is missing.

In my view, gratitude is the missing link. Make gratitude the center of your life and you will want to be at Mass every Sunday to express your thanks. The church invites you to do that in the company of other faith-committed grateful people.

Nobody likes an ingrate. If you are not liked as much as you would like to be, and if you don’t like yourself as much as you should, the problem may be the absence of gratitude at the center of your life. The solution is relatively simple.

Be grateful for the gift of life and the gift of faith. Be grateful for family, friends, health, education, job and everything else that is yours. Recognize that all of this is a gift to you and take to heart the life-changing conclusion that can be drawn from this kind of reflection: If you are fully human, all you can be is grateful.


Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.