November 16, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Gratitude list helps us remember God’s blessings

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers … far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.” (President John F. Kennedy, Thanksgiving proclamation, 1963)

Next week, we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a day set aside to give “reverent thanks” for all the blessings we have received. It’s also a time to be with family and friends, and to enjoy sports and parades and all the good things of life.

Wise people often say that the secret to happiness, to a reasonably carefree life, is gratitude. The man or woman who can say “thank you” has discovered the key to happiness. It’s not magic or even miraculous. It’s the simple truth: Gratitude is good for the soul. Saying thank you is a healing balm for hearts that are troubled.

Our Church teaches that the one we must thank—above all others—is God. We have all been blessed with gifts from God. Life comes first. What a marvelous gift to be grateful for—the opportunity to live and to share in the goodness of creation as a person made in God’s image and likeness.

Freedom is another of God’s gifts. We can say “yes” or “no.” We can choose how we live. We can speak our minds and think our own thoughts. We are free even when we are in prison or compelled to act against our will. No one controls our spirits. We are sons and daughters of God, free people, and this freedom is ours to enjoy or abuse as we see fit, for better or worse.

Many of us have been given the gift of health. Many have food, shelter and clothing (some way beyond the basic necessities of life). Most of us have been blessed with loving families and good friends. Most of us have work to do—to earn our daily bread and to serve the common good. Out of gratitude to God for these precious gifts, we are called to reach out to others—especially those who are not as blessed as we are—to share what we have, and to give thanks by our actions more than our words.

Have you ever composed a gratitude list? It’s a wonderful spiritual exercise. Most people are used to identifying all the things they have to complain about—all the things that go wrong in their lives, all the people they’re tempted to blame for their unhappiness. If you have a list like this (an “ingratitude list”), throw it away. It can only fuel your sense of resentment and self-pity. Why not replace it with a list of all the people and things you have to be thankful for? That’s a much better way to find healing and hope in spite of your hurts and sorrows.

A healthy gratitude list starts with the Lord, who has blessed us all in so many ways and who invites us all to grow close to him in prayer. Parents, living or deceased, should be on our gratitude list as should our family members, friends and co-workers. Those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of our freedom should also be included.

Saying “thank you” is a way of healing inner hurts. It’s a way of remembering that life is a lot more than the struggles or hurts or unhappiness we experience day in and day out. These are the crosses we’re called to carry as we follow Jesus on the way to our heavenly home.

He certainly had reason to be bitter, resentful and angry, but he chose the better way, the way to joy and peace. He thanked his heavenly Father in a formal way at the Last Supper. He forgave us all as he hung on the cross. He bestowed on his disciples (then and now) the joy of Easter and the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

We should not minimize the very real suffering and unhappiness of others. Nor should we dismiss people’s concerns by simply urging them to “think happy thoughts.” But an honest assessment of our gifts and blessings can go a long way toward changing our outlook on life and helping us find reasons for joy.

If every day were a day of thanksgiving, we would all be so much happier, healthier and at peace with ourselves and with the world around us.

This Thanksgiving weekend, make a gratitude list. During the holidays, refer to it often. You’ll be happy (and grateful) you did! †

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