Ingratitude is one of the most painful feelings that an individual can experience. More painful than anger or heartbreak because ingratitude is like an acid that corrodes a person interiorly and impacts the heart of the individual who endures such an experience. Nevertheless, as members of the Society and the worldwide Vincentian Family, we are engaged in a process of seeking holiness. Therefore, we have to find ways to rise above those harmful feelings that, at times, we might experience during a home visit or when assisting a specific family and even when dealing with some other member[s] of the Society.
One Mother’s Day, an individual Conference decided to visit the mothers whom they were assisting and gave them a gift of various beauty products. They were surprised when some of the women spoke no words of thanks … not even a smile or some other gesture of affection. Yes, we have to admit that there are people who are so deeply wounded that they have neither the strength nor the courage to face life on life’s terms. At the same time, however, to reveal such a profound indifference to the reception of a gift is to inflict harm on those who have made a genuine gesture of charity.
Jesus, himself, expressed his surprise when confronted with ingratitude. After curing ten lepers, Jesus was upset at the fact that only one person returned to thank him. Jesus asked: Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? (Luke 17:17). During the time of our Vincentian pilgrimage we will encounter many “lepers” and perhaps only a few will express some words or gesture of gratitude. Yes, it is true that when we engage in ministry, we are not seeking some reward and/or thanks for what we do … something very human about that. What can console us when dealing with such situations is to realize that ungrateful people are often victims in our society who never had the same opportunities as we have had.
Gratitude can be easy for some people to express. Perhaps such people have had the opportunity to receive an education or their family taught them the importance of human values and social principles … gratitude being one such value and principle. It is true that some of the people whom we minister to lack that characteristic of gratitude. Therefore, together with the food basket that we might offer to a family, the members of the Society have a responsibility to also offer these families example, guidance, counsel … and above all, teaching. All the courageous and virtuous words that we speak will, in the future, bear fruit.
Nevertheless, we can be certain that just as Jesus offered the other cheek to those who attempted to harm him (Matthew 5:39), so also when we experience ingratitude (from those whom we serve, from representatives of our church, from other members of our Society or the Vincentian Family), that experience can be the key that opens the doors of paradise. Those gestures of ingratitude bestow upon us “the hidden diploma of holiness” … diplomas that will be given to us by Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam when, one day, we arrive at the gates of heaven.
What is the worst defect of the human person? How can we, as members of the Vincent de Paul Society and the worldwide Vincentian Family, deal with such situations in our ministry, especially when we encounter ingratitude in the person(s) to whom we minister?
Written by: Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
Eastern Province, USA