This story comes from the life of St. Patrick (389?-461?) the beloved patron saint of Ireland.

Once a wealthy and powerful chieftain made a gift of a large portion of meat to the kind hearted St. Patrick to distribute to the poor. The chieftain was not a generous man; he made the offering to gain favor among the people and to earn the popular saint’s gratitude. The chieftain’s young servant carried the meat to where St. Patrick lived with his Christian brothers and presented the gift. St. Patrick and the brothers knew of many hungry people in the country who could use the food.

The saint raised his eyes to heaven and, with a full heart, said, “Deo Gratias!”  The servant did not understand these words and waited for a message of thanks for his master, but none came.

When the chieftain learned that the valuable gift was met with only two unknown words and not the praise he expected, he was furious. Twice more the servant was sent back to St. Patrick with equally large portions of meat that the chieftain thought would impress the saint. But each time the young messenger returned he disappointed his master with the saint’s words, “Deo Gratias.”

Well, the wealthy and powerful chieftain had never been treated like this before and was overcome with rage.  He sent the frightened messenger back to St. Patrick, to bring the holy man to him. St. Patrick willingly went with the young servant to see the man who had been the instrument of so much good fortune.

The chieftain shouted with anger when St. Patrick arrived, even drawing his sword, as he demanded to know why the saint had not expressed great gratitude for such a great gift.  Only two words for a gift that weighed so much!

St. Patrick was calm in the face of the man’s anger. He said, “The two words I spoke carry more weight in the eyes of God than all the meat you gave.”  St. Patrick asked that scales be loaded with meat equaling the amount the chieftain had given. Then St. Patrick wrote the words, “Deo Gratias,” three times on a piece of parchment and placed the parchment on the other side of the scales. While the chieftain and his servants looked on in wonder, the scales tipped down low —-on the side of the parchment!

The wealthy chieftain knelt before the saint and tearfully asked the meaning of the two words that outweighed three quarters of an ox. When St. Patrick explained that “Deo Gratias” meant “Thanks be to God,” the wealthy man understood that behind every giver is God, and ultimately our gratitude should be to God.

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