I'm in Book 2 Chapter 10 of the Imitation of Christ. The Chapter title is "On Gratitude for God's Grace." What is grace exactly? The word comes from the Latin gratia meaning "favor, esteem, regard; pleasing quality, good will, gratitude."
In his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon, S.J. defines grace in the Biblical sense as the "condescension or benevolence (Greek charis) shown by God toward the human race."
God doesn't owe us a thing. He created us out of his total gratuitous love and wants to shower us with blessings. We don't deserve that love or those blessings, and we owe the One who created us unlimited thanks, honor, and praise for His goodness to us. We can never repay Him. We owe Him thanks for everything. Chesterton put it well when he said we shouldn't only say grace before meals, but grace before the opera and before we open a book or walk or swim.... The grace of God is in everything!
Fr. Hardon goes on: "...[grace] is also the unmerited gift proceeding from this benevolent disposition...a totally gratuitous gift on which man has absolutely no claim.... As the Church has come to explain the meaning of grace, it refers to something more than the gifts of nature, such as creation or the blessings of bodily health. Grace is the supernatural gift that God, of his free benevolence, bestows on rational creatures for their eternal salvation."
Without God's grace we can never make it to heaven. We need it as surely as we need the air we breathe. Those who refuse God's grace are dead even if they are physically alive, because God's grace is what animates the soul and a soul without the grace of God is dead. That's what mortal sin does to it. I'm not sure when ingratitude becomes a mortal sin, but Exodus is full of it and there were times during the Israelites' journey in the desert when their ingratitude and grumbling earned them physical death. We should beware of ingratitude toward God. Many no doubt rarely think about it, which is itself a grave fault.
Finally, Father Hardon says: "The gifts of grace are essentially supernatural. They surpass the being, powers, and claims of created nature, namely sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and actual grace. They are the indispensable means necessary to reach the beatific vision. In a secondary sense, grace also includes such blessings as the miraculous gifts of prophecy or healing, or the preternatural gifts of freedom from concupiscence."
Wow! That's a lot to unpack.
Simply put, grace is everything we receive from God. And that includes everything except our sins, the only thing we own. God owns us lock, stock, and barrel. He made us, we belong to Him. Every blessing we have and every challenge we face is a gift from God for our good. In Chapter 11, "On the small number of the Lovers of the Cross," Thomas a Kempis points out that the greatest response to God's grace is to love Jesus purely for Himself and not for our own sakes, to "bless Him in all trouble and anguish as well as in time of consolation." The grateful soul kisses the cross and can say with St. Therese of Liseux that she prefers vinegar to honey.
It's a tall order and one we can only achieve with God's grace. And how do we receive an abundance of God's grace? By giving Him time in prayer and meditation. A friendship requires a relationship. If we are so busy relating to our friends, the pleasures of the world, our cell phones, our computers, our TVs, and the busy-ness of daily life, and we do not make time for Jesus, we are doomed. No relationship ever blossomed without a generous investment of time, talking and listening to the one whose friendship we seek. And the One who is most worth seeking, the only one who will never betray us, is Jesus Christ along with His mother Mary, the angels and the saints.
So what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? I'm thankful for my faith, my family, and for all of our children and grandchildren who are here together to celebrate. But I'm most thankful for God's gratuitous grace that fills every day with hints of heaven and the glory to come.
Thanks be to God!