Recently, in the course of praying the Divine Office, I stumbled upon the text of St Paul to the church in Colossae in my midday prayer. St. Paul tells the Colossians: “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness” (Col 3:15b). Then we were talking in Bible study the other day about Paul’s spirituality of gratitude. It seems that no matter what Paul went through–separation from those he loved, jail for long periods of time, hunger, the sword–no matter what he faced, he remained thankful to God. We were looking at that theme in the letter to the Philippians, how he penned that letter of joy and gratitude while sitting in a jail cell with nothing. Friends, that must be us, too. We are to be thankful, to have a spirituality of gratitude.
I had a friend in college who was a Jew. I learned some things from him. Apparently there is an adage among the Jews: “A good Jew thanks God 100 times a day.” This should be true of us Christians, too! We should thank God, even in passing, at least 100 times a day for all our blessings. There’s the story the Chinese philosopher Confucius told, of course, of the man who was complaining about having no shoes. Then he met a man who had no feet. Meister Elkart said that if the only prayer a man ever utters is “thank you,” it might just be enough.
Gratitude. This morning I would like to take a bit of a different tactic as we seek to understand and implement a spirituality of gratitude in our lives. I’d like to reflect on this: What am I thankful for in my life as a priest?
I’m very thankful for our youth. Our first reading today tells us how the Spirit fell upon Moses and all these other people — Eldad, Medad, and many elders. The spirit fell upon them and they began to spread the message. Some didn’t like who God picked to descend upon–Eldad and Medad weren’t models of holiness, after all–but then Moses yells out: “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!” Everyone should be a prophet. Almost 60 youth were confirmed from our parishes this past week. The Spirit fell upon them. I wish you all could know how wonderful they are. They are sinners and they make mistakes – but, o my, there is so much good in them. I hear their confessions, I see them on mission trips and at youth group, I read their letters to the archbishop. I am deeply thankful for them and I want you to know how much faith and goodness they have in them, and how blessed we are to have them as members of our family here. Archbishop noted in his homily at Confirmation that these days, there are a few things wrong with the churc, but the youth of the church give witness to what is right with it.
I’m also thankful for confession, that God has a way of dealing with our sins that doesn’t involve the chopping off of limbs as described in our gospel today. I went to confession the other day and gave over my failings and my sins. It’s one of those things: you know it’s true, that it works, because you can feel its truth, you can feel it working. The priest gave me my penance, I swore to avoid praying half-heartedly and rapidly in the future, and I went on my way. It dawned on me that our sins are largely tied up to our state in life. So is our sanctity. Sin for me is neglecting my priesthood, and sanctity is fully living it. That is the same for a husband and wife–sin for them is neglecting their marital vocation, or vocation as parents, and sanctity is fully living it. It is true for all the people in our lives that we have been called to serve and love–the more we are thankful for them, the better we will be to them.
I’m thankful for the gift of time. The reading at Mass the other day was from Ecclesiastes: “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….” There is time, but it is short. We had better fill our time pursing things that matter most — love, faith, family — and not waste it pursing the things that James mentions today in our second reading. As he notes, “wealth rots away, clothes become moth-eaten, your gold and silver corrode..” Every moment is a gift. If we’re thankful for each moment, we tend to use our time better.
I’m for so many things–our heavenly patrons (yesterday was my feast day, then we had St Vincent de Paul the other day, Mary’s October month starts tomorrow), for this weather, the Fall, Oktoberfest, and so on….but I suppose the last thing I’ll reflect on is this. I’m thankful for being a priest and for this parish and its people. The other day, a second grader came up to me at recess and hugged me. Then he said, “I’m so glad you’re a priest.” It was the most wonderful thing. I’m glad for this, too. There is so much joy in this life, even with the blah that is a part of every life–there are those who let me down, difficult moments, etc….but most nights, as I rest in bed, my heart smiles — just as St. Paul’s must have–because there are so many people in this world to love, and so many to be loved by. God has given me a vocation that gets me out of bed at 6:00 and has me praying and running and talking and anointing and teaching and lecturing at Marian and joking and belly-aching all day long until about midnight, and he has made me love it. He has made me love him through it.
There are so many blessings in this life. A spirituality of gratitude recognizes that. This type of spirituality, it’s a way of looking at life, a way of life, where thanking God 100 times doesn’t seem near enough….and it’s simply automatic, part of our character, who we are. The opposite of gratitude is probably complaining about everything. We seem to live in a culture that promotes that.
This reflection on thankfulness leads well us to the primary act of worship we have as Christians, the Eucharist. That word of course comes from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving. Of all our gratitudes, the greatest must be the Eucharist….because it is Christ and his atoning sacrifice, made present at every Mass, that is the center of everything for us. So let us go to his altar with gratitude in our hearts.