One day a priest was visiting a third grade class in his parish’s Catholic School. The priest asked a boy if he said his prayers every day. The boy said: “No, not every day, some days I don’t need anything.” This story made me smile. However, the point it makes is an important one. Petitions are not the only prayers we should say. In fact the most important prayer is one of gratitude. The famous German mystic, Meister Eckhart said: “If the only prayer you say your entire is Thank You, it would be enough.” He may be exaggerating to make a point, but he is not far from the truth.
When a priest begins the Preface at Mass which ends in the Holy, Holy, he says: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give You thanks Lord holy Father, eternal and mighty God.” It takes a long time to train ourselves to always and everywhere give God thanks. We have to develop a certain attitude in our lives, an attitude of gratitude. Our capacity to do this depends on how we face the problems that life brings. Everyone has problems and some people have terrible problems, as Vincentians can testify to by their home visits. While undergoing these problems, the last thing a person might want to do is give thanks. Yet put into perspective, a faith perspective, the problems may be opportunities for conversion, growth, as well as moments when God is asking a person to trust more. Here is a poem that I try to say each day. I do not know who the author is.
Count your blessings instead of your crosses.
Count you gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes.
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears.
Count courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean.
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth.
Count on God instead of yourself.
In chapter 11 of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is about to raise His dear friend Lazarus from the dead. Before doing so, He says this to His Heavenly Father: “Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I know indeed that you always hear Me, but I speak for the sake of all who stand round me.” When we try to imitate a person, we try to do and say what that person does and says. In this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus expressed heartfelt thanks to His Father. Should we not do the same?
If we study the life of St. Vincent DePaul or any other saint, we will find that they learned the valuable and important lesson of daily giving thanks to God. We, who have the privilege of daily receiving the Eucharist, which is an act of thanksgiving, must express our thanksgiving by thanks-living. Otherwise we risk being hypocrites, which means actors. We know that Christianity is an abnormal way of life. By that I mean that it is not the norm when it comes to forgiving or giving thanks. Children and even adults need to be reminded of the importance of giving thanks.
In the United States, Thanksgiving Day comes closest to being a secular holy day.
May Thanksgiving 2016 remind us never to take for granted those we love and cherish, especially God!
May the prayer of thanksgiving we say before our sumptuous meal resonate throughout our lives and last until Thanksgiving 2017.