A portion of the Catholic mass includes a back-and-forth between the priest and the people in which a call is issued to give thanks because “it is our duty and our salvation, always to give thanks.” That being thankful is a duty makes sense, as we are instructed early on by parents to say “thank you” whenever someone gives us something or does something nice for us, something we appreciate. In short order, such training becomes automatic and we no longer have to remember to be thankful as a rule.

But that giving thanks might be our salvation is a result we do not generally expect, perhaps because being thankful first came to us as a duty. Seeing beyond the dutiful quality of giving thanks to its potential for liberating us can be difficult. We may carry a sense that we owe thanks to another, that we are bound to be grateful rather than choosing freely to be grateful and give thanks.

The salvation that gratitude offers comes when we realize, in giving thanks, how much comes our way without any effort on our part, how much we receive as gift rather than being earned. The passage of the seasons with daily sunrise and evening stars, the kindness of strangers, the patience of those we live with, a day in which everything came easily, a return to health after illness, the happiness of someone we love when we bore no responsibility for that happiness: on and on the list goes of events and experiences that we did not create but were ours to enjoy anyway. In time, gratitude for what is not the result of our efforts can open us to the possibility of realizing we are cared for, moment by moment, by the One who gives us life and breath all our days.

And to know God is ever with me: in that knowledge, a knowledge acquired through giving thanks, is truly our salvation.