September 21, 2007


Gratitude is the foundation for authentic Christian living

(Listen to this editorial being read)

Just three months after agreeing to a crippling settlement of more than $660 million, the largest sex abuse settlement in Church history, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has issued a pastoral letter on gratitude.

The letter, “For This You Were Called: Be Thankful,” was recently presented by the cardinal at a stewardship convocation for more than 125 parish leaders and ministers representing 17 parishes that are part of the initial pilot wave for Growing Stewards, a mission enhancement initiative designed to develop a spirituality of stewardship at the parish level. (More than 100 parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis participated in a similar initiative in 2005-06 prior to the current Legacy For Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future campaign.)

Calling it “exciting” and “providential,” the cardinal said that the new stewardship initiative “really is basic renewal of the Church.”

The effort comes at a historically important moment, added the cardinal, following more than five difficult years of confronting the scandal of sex abuse within the Church.

“Your faith over these years has been so inspiring to me,” Cardinal Mahony told parishioners gathered at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center in Los Angeles. “This is a very special moment for us, and I think that the whole stewardship concept is one of the main pillars of rebuilding who we are here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

Calling attention to some basic themes in the brief pastoral letter, the cardinal began by emphasizing that, “Gratitude is the foundation for authentic Christian living.”

Disciples of Jesus are called to carry the cross with their Lord, but this does not mean that we are to be bitter or resentful.

“When we are grateful, we don’t lose sight of the pain and suffering in human life,” Cardinal Mahony writes. “But being grateful does allow us to see the challenges of life from the perspective of God’s gift constantly being offered, even and especially amidst pain and suffering, grief and anxiety.”

Being thankful allows us to see things differently—from the perspective of God’s grace “constantly being offered” and with the eyes of those who recognize how blessed we are as members of the family of God.

Quoting the medieval Dominican Meister Eckhart, the cardinal writes, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

“For This You Were Called: Be Thankful” speaks to the important relationship between gratitude and Eucharist, “the sacrament of giving thanks” and “our deepest expression of gratitude, the grace-filled response to the Lord’s gift of his life in the Paschal Mystery.”

The Eucharist is a prayer of thanksgiving, Cardinal Mahony writes, “made through, with and in Christ and with all who make up Christ’s body, the Church.”

Being a truly Eucharistic Church means that we express our gratitude in action—cultivating the gifts we have received and sharing them generously with others as responsible stewards of all God’s gifts.

This means we are accountable for our development and use of God’s gifts.

According to Cardinal Mahony, “We are all responsible for advancing the mission of the Church because we are all members of the Body of Christ, gathered and sent to carry on Christ’s work.”

Quoting the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship, “For This You Were Called: Be Thankful” reminds us that one day God will require an accounting of the use each of us has made of the spiritual and temporal goods entrusted to our care.

The cardinal is not suggesting that we should be thankful for pain and suffering—and certainly not for the deep-seated grief and anxiety caused by the abuse of children and by the failure of Church leaders to respond effectively.

But God’s grace is powerful enough to bring forth good from even the most unspeakable evils, from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the horrors of war in Iraq and Afghanistan or the devastating scandals of recent Church history.

“For This You Were Called: Be Thankful” does not shy away from suffering, but it calls us to let God’s grace transform our pain and sorrow through the simplicity and authenticity of our gratitude.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul admonishes us, “Be thankful.” Not just for the good things of life, but for the grace to bear life’s burdens and to follow Jesus without counting the cost. For this, we were called. Let us be thankful.

—Daniel Conway

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