Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D



Gratitude is thankfulness as at least partial repayment for an act of kindness, courtesy, or mercy. Sounds simple enough. But how overlooked a virtue -- one annexed to the cardinal virtue of Justice -- gratitude has become. We take so much for granted! Every day, we walk blithely by things that should have us stunned with wonder -- the structure of a bird's feather lying on the ground; the cycle of water from atmosphere to rain to sea; the way different seeds get moved about by water, wind, and animals so they can find a way to take root; that we exist at all, and that we are conscious and "creative," able to form incredibly complex systems to meet our needs and wants. Here, take a moment to listen to Leonard E. Read's 1964 essay, I, Pencil (mp3) -- or, if you prefer, read it: I, Pencil (pdf) -- and really think about the "miracle" of something as seemingly simple as the common, everyday pencil.

Yes, a pencil is a wonder. And so is the fact that when you twist a faucet handle, water comes out. And when you flip a switch, the lights come on. And when you get a bacterial infection, there are antibiotics to save your life. It wasn't that long ago that none of these things existed; the lives of our ancestors were so incredibly hard that we likely wouldn't last a month in their place. From Rev. John McDowell's 1902 article on the life of miners:

"I’m twelve years old, goin' on thirteen," said the boy to the boss of the breaker. He didn't look more than ten, and he was only nine, but the law said he must be twelve to get a job. He was one of a multitude of the 16,000 youngsters of the mines, who, because miners' families are large and their pay comparatively small, start in the breaker before many boys have passed their primary schooling. From the time he enters the breaker there is a rule of progress that is almost always followed. Once a miner and twice a breaker boy, the upward growth of boy to man, breaker boy to miner, the descent from manhood to old age, from miner to breaker boy: that is the rule. So the nine-year old boy who is "twelve, goin' on thirteen," starts in the breaker. He gets from fifty to seventy cents for ten hours' work. He rises at 5:30 o'clock in the morning, puts on his working clothes, always soaked with dust, eats his breakfast, and by seven o'clock he has climbed the dark and dusty stairway to the screen room where he works. He sits on a hard bench built across a long chute through which passes a steady stream of broken coal. From the coal he must pick the pieces of slate or rock...

...Sitting on his uncomfortable seat, bending constantly over the passing stream of coal, his hands soon become cut and scarred by the sharp pieces of slate and coal, while his finger nails are soon worn to the quick from contact with the iron chute. The air he breathes is saturated with the coal dust, and as a rule the breaker is fiercely hot in summer and intensely cold in winter. In many of the modern breakers, to be sure, steam heating pipes have been introduced into the screen rooms, and fans have been placed in some breakers to carry away the dust. But however favorable the conditions, the boy's life is a hard one.

It's truly humbling how much we have to be grateful for!

It goes without saying that our greatest gratitude, and for graces we can never repay with great enough thanks, should be our gratitude to God. We show that gratitude by doing what He tells us -- most especially by loving Him and our neighbor -- and by simply expressing our thanks to Him in prayer. But to do that as best we can, we have to take notice of what we have to be grateful for.

Practices to Help Increase the Virtue of Gratitude

First, I encourage you to open the Book of Nature. And when you do, let it inspire you. Ask God to show His creation to you as you walk about (or even just ponder it in your mind if you're shut in). This very sort of thing started the Carmelite Brother Lawrence on his path to holiness. From "Practice of the Presence of God":

The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the third of August 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favour, in his conversion at age eighteen. That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had set him perfectly loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for God that he could not tell whether it had increased in above forty years that he had lived since.

Look at the night sky and its beautiful Moon instead of blindly walking under them! Take a minute to really watch the ants instead of blindly walking over them! There are wonders to behold all around you all the time!

Second, I hope that you advert your attention to God throughout the day and thank Him as you go. Recall the story from Luke 17:11-19:

And it came to pass, as He was going to Jerusalem, He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered into a certain town, there met Him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off; and lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

Whom when He saw, He said: Go, shew yourselves to the priests.

And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean.

And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before His feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan.

And Jesus answering, said, Were not ten made clean? and where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger. And He said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.

Third, I hope you take time to count your blessings. It's easy, though, to take those blessings for granted because we are so accustomed to them. Consider: when my parents were young, it was a huge event to receive an orange on Christmas. An orange! Each slice was savored as if it were ambrosia. When that same generation got old, most of its members didn't give oranges a second thought because they became so plentiful and available any time of the year.

A way around taking things for granted is to think of a certain blessing -- and then really imagine your life without it. What would your life be like without your health? Your spouse? Your children? Where would you have ended up if you hadn't been able to do this, that, or the other thing in your past? Thinking of our blessings as potential absences can make us much more grateful for them than we usually are.

And sometimes making those blessings actually absent might help.
Our giving up meat on Fridays makes us appreciate meat on Saturdays all the more, for ex., and so it is with Lent and other penances. Nothing's sweeter than the bells of Easter that ring in the celebration of Christ's Resurrection -- and the return of so many things we love and gave up for Lent, but tend not to give a second's thought to during most of the year. There's an old story that illustrates this:

An Italian man went to his priest to complain. "Everything is terrible. Just-a terrible! I gotta dis awful pain in my back, Father. Like a knife. Won't-a leave-a me be for a minute. Then there is-a my wife -- always-a nagging atta me. All the time with a "do dis" or "do dat" -- she make-a me pazz'! Oh, and then there is-a my son. He's-a no good, Father. No good... Everything is-a just terrible."

The priest listened, then told the man to get a goat, tie it to the kitchen sink, leave it for a week, then let the goat go, and come back to see him.

The man does what Father said, lets the goat go at the end of a week, and goes back to the priest. The priest asks him how he is, and the man says, "I'm-a so good I sing alla time, Father! My back -- she still-a hurt. My wife -- still-a notta so nice. My son -- he's-a no good. But I'm-a so happy 'cause dat goat -- she is-a gone!"

Ah, the joys of life without a goat in the kitchen! Nothing had changed for the man except his ability to see how lovely his little kitchen was in its normal, everyday, taken-for-granted state. The point: sometimes a break from what we love might be in order to help us re-realize our gratitude for it. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," as they say, or "there are no mountains without valleys." Consider that sense of relief when returning home from a vacation: home is never more loved than after time spent away from it. Consider taking periodic breaks from things you love, maybe in the form of retreats, pilgrimages, and mortifications.

Fourth, I hope you teach your children to wonder, to be grateful, and to express their thanks to God and to those who show them kindnesses. Teach them to say thank you -- and to do it sincerely, looking at the person they are thanking. Teach them to thank those who do them services, such as waiters and clerks. Teach them to write thank-you notes.

And teach them how much they have to be grateful for. To this end, I encourage your getting them to think about where some of the things they see and use every day come from, as the essay "I, Pencil" shows. At dinner, for ex., ask them to think about where the broccoli and meat they're eating came from, how it came to be on their plates, and all the human labor involved at each step. Have them trace the broccoli all the way back -- from Dad who worked to make the money to buy it, to Mom who worked to prepare it, to the store clerk who worked to sell it, to the store owner who worked to buy it, to the trucker who worked to deliver it, to the picker who worked to harvest it, to the farmer who worked to plant it, to the seed from which it sprang, to the plant that came before it, all the way back to the first plant of its kind which was made by God (always end with God!). Point to things in your kitchen and ask them to think of the elements that make up those things, where those elements came from, how they were fashioned into the objects you're considering, and how they got to be in your home. Expand their consciousness of what they see around them and undoubtedly take for granted.

I also encourage you to consider showing them a few reality television series that can open their eyes as to how much they truly have. The first five of these concern modern families who go to live under conditions that many of our ancestors lived under. The series are:

Colonial House depicts life in Plymouth Colony, United States in 1628 Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and British Wall to Wall Television in 2004
Texas Ranch House depicts life in  Texas, United States in 1867 Produced by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 2006
Frontier House depicts life in Montana Territory in 1883 Produced by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 2002
1900 House depicts life in London, England in 1900 Produced by British  Wall to Wall/Channel 4 in 1999
1940s House depicts life in London, England during The Blitz of World War II, 1940/1 Produced by British Wall to Wall/Channel 4 in 2001
Alone depicts life alone in the wilderness with nothing but a few tools to survive Produced by The History Channel, 2015-present (2021)

The above series are modern reality TV series, so take them with a grain of salt and a willingness to talk to your children (be warned that "Alone" shows the killing of some animals, typically rabbits or fish -- or usually, perhaps only, the aftermath thereof -- so citified children may be bothered at first by things that, in the end, they need to face). But in spite of any possible shortcomings, I think these shows can really help a modern child understand how incredibly blessed he is. See if your library has these available (don't forget the interlibrary loan system most libraries are a part of) or can buy them or if they can be found online.1

Give your children tools and take them places to help them really see things. Get a magnifying glass, a microscope, a telescope, and other such tools if you're able. Take them to museums, aquariums, zoos, farms, petting zoos, a planetarium, the symphony, plays, etc. Expose them to the world's wonders, and teach them about them.

Another practice you might find helpful in nurturing the virtue of gratitude is the setting up of a gratitude tree. To do this, get some slim branches from outside -- gnarly ones with lots of twigs -- and place them inside a large, heavy vase (you may have to weigh the vase down with rocks inside of it to hold the branches in place). Then get some index cards, cut them in half on their vertical axis, punch holes at the tops, and tie strings through the holes to make loops (or use rubber bands looped inside themselves). Place them -- along with a pencil -- at the foot of the vase. Each night at dinner, have family members write down on the cards something they are grateful for that day (it could be anything from "John put his toys away without being asked" to "Tonight's full Moon"). Hang them, without reading them, on the tree. On Sundays, read the cards during dinner. Make a game of guessing who wrote what. If you don't have the time for all the hole-punching and string-tying, or room for a vase filled with branches, make a gratitude jar instead: take the halved index cards and place them next to a large jar into which your family can place the filled-out cards.

Fifth, people treasure most what they've sacrificed to attain. Three practices to help your children:
  • Don't do for your children what they can do for themselves -- and don't underestimate their abilities. Teach your kids, as soon as they're able, how to do things for themselves -- cooking, laundry, cleaning, setting a table, making their beds, changing a lightbulb, dressing themselves, etc. They will come to have much more gratitude for food on the table, clean clothes, and a made bed than they would have if all of those things "magically" got done for them by others.

  • Teach them to have the discipline to delay gratification by sometimes having them wait to indulge in pleasures, and teach them to have a low time preference by periodically granting them greater pleasures at a later time than they'd receive if they got a reward now (ex., "You can play your game now for 30 minutes, or you can wait an hour and play for 60 minutes"). The ability to delay gratification is an extremely important skill, one that is a good predictor of material success in life.

  • Teach them the monetary value of things by giving them chores to do that are rewarded with money so they can learn to save up to buy things.The child who works for a month to save up money to buy a train set will value and have more gratitude for that train set than the child who is given it.
Sixth, make use of any secular holiday of thanksgiving your country may have. Of course, we Catholics give thanks corporately and in a formal way every Sunday ("Eucharist" means "thanksgiving"); but the setting aside of a day to give thanks as a civil society is a good thing. The United States have their Thanksgving on the fourth Thursday of November; Canada has theirs on the second Monday in October; the United Kingdom has a harvest festival on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal equinox. And for those who live in countries that don't set aside a holiday for giving thanks, there's always Martinmas (November 11).

On our Thanksgiving in America, in addition to dining on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, corn, and pumpkin pie, we give thanks to God for our harvest and country. It's a gorgeous tradition, one that should be cherished, with the purpose of the day being kept in mind amid all the feasting. A sort of gratitude tree is often made by Americans, but in the shape of a turkey on Thanksgiving. Family members write what they're grateful for on cut-out "turkey feathers" and then tape them on to a paper turkey to be read during dinner. A turkey and feathers you can use for this purpose: Gratitude Turkey with 16 Feathers (pdf). Have your kids color in the turkey and feathers in browns, coppers, oranges, yellows, greens, and reds -- on one side only, so the back sides of the feathers are left blank to write on.

Seventh, and finally, each sex needs to deeply consider and be grateful for the gifts and talents of the opposite sex. In our time, what men give to the world is absolutely taken for granted. Men are disrespected by our culture and in law, are degraded in popular entertainment and by our institutions. While the world turns itself upside down to ensure the success of females and provide them help, male success and well-being are completely ignored even as men are blamed for the existence of all evils. Women need to stop and truly think about what the world would be like without men. Roads, buildings, running water, electric gadgets, centralized heat, air-conditioning, airplanes, antibiotics -- as Camille Paglia put it, without men, we'd be living in grass huts. And women need to show some appreciation and respect for that fact.2 At the same time, we need to guard against overreaction to the brutal ways in which men's lives have been taken for granted, and teach our children to have an ordinate respect for women, without whom men wouldn't be inspired to build what they do, and would have no families to build for. Mothers, praise up little boys and men -- and praise them up to little girls. Model having respect for the masculine to them. Fathers, teach your sons to respect and be ordinately protective of girls and women. Vive la différence!

Gratitude While Suffering

It can be hard to feel grateful when things are awful. But that's what we are called to do, as I Thessalonians 5:13 tells us:

In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.

A story for you to ponder: Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Calvinist, a woman of great natural virtue who, along with her family, hid Jews away from Nazis during World War II. She and her entire family were arrested and sent, ultimately, to Ravensbrück concentration camp. The room in which Corrie and others were imprisoned was infested with fleas, fleas that so badly bit and annoyed her so fiercely that she momentarily lost her gratitude. The room, though, was strangely absent of intrusions by guards. This relative liberty allowed the sisters to preach to their fellow inmates and to remain free of the abuses that guards dealt out to inmates housed in other rooms. It took a few weeks for Corrie to learn that the reason why the guards stayed away from their room was because of -- the fleas. Even the vexing, trouble-making flea has a purpose for which we can be grateful.

No matter how hard things are for you right now, please, see your suffering in light of eternity, offer it up, and know that, as St. Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Turn to friends, family, the Saints, and God for solace, and remember that whatever you are suffering from, you still have much to be thankful for.

Take inspiration from the example of others who've given thanks while enduring horrors. Some Scriptural help:
  • Jonah gives thanks while in the belly of the fish: Jonas 1-2

  • The beautiful hymn of praise offered by Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago (aka respectively Ananias, Misael and Azarias) while in the fiery furnace: Daniel 3

  • Job endures torments while being mocked by his friends but never loses faith: the entire book of Job

  • Psalm 146
  • The prayer of Sara in the Book of Tobias 3:21-23: "But this every one is sure of that worshippeth Thee, that his life, if it be under trial, shall be crowned: and if it be under tribulation, it shall be delivered: and if it be under correction, it shall be allowed to come to Thy mercy. For Thou art not delighted in our being lost: because after a storm Thou makest a calm, and after tears and weeping Thou pourest in joyfulness. Be Thy name, O God of Israel, blessed for ever."

See also: Becoming Virtuous: How to Acquire the Cardinal Virtues


1 For a dramatic movie about gratitude to show your kids, look into "Of Human Hearts" (1938), starring Jimmy Stewart as the ungrateful son of a preacher. It's melodramatic and over-the-top -- complete with a scene of President Abraham Lincoln teaching Stewart's character something about gratitude -- but, well, it's Jimmy Stewart (a personal favorite of mine and a real life war hero), so how far wrong can you go?

2 Mistakes feminists make when talking about men include generalizing their personal experiences (e.g., assuming that if they had a bad father, then all fathers are bad), ignoring the evils women are capable of (for ex., 49.7% of violent relationships are reciprocally violent, and in nonreciprocally violent relationships, it is women who are the perpetrators in more than 70% of the cases:, and conflating the evil actions of the ~3% of men who are sociopaths with the actions of "all men" or of "men" in general. This sort of thing must stop.

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