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The eleventh month is now upon us, drawing us closer to the end of the calendar year. It is a transition month, a month between autumn and winter, when the leaves get raked, and the crops have been harvested. We “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time and revert to Standard Time. Most of us prepare for rain, snow and winter storms. It is also a month that reminds us to be grateful which is so fundamental to Christian stewardship.

During the month of November we express our gratitude for the saints, witnesses to the Gospel who challenge us to find our own path to holiness. We are grateful for the lives of all who have gone before us to meet the Lord, especially those we know and hold dear. We thank our veterans who have offered their lives on our behalf. And of course, in the United States, there is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that is all about gratitude.

The month of November is an ideal time of the year to focus our spiritual lives more intently on being grateful for the blessings of the Lord. Sacred scripture is a good place to start because it is filled with the themes of thanksgiving and gratitude. The psalmist sings: “Give thanks to God, bless his name” (Psalm 100:4). We can become more aware, too, of gratitude as it is expressed in the rhythm of the Eucharistic celebration. Other spiritual exercises, too, may help us to grow to be more grateful stewards of God’s love.

The month of November is an ideal time of the year to focus our spiritual lives more intently on being grateful for the blessings of the Lord.

Pray with gratitude. Set aside some time for prayer each day. If you are new to the habit of daily prayer, find 10 minutes in your daily schedule. Pray as a family as well. And begin with a prayer of gratitude.

Put gratitude into action. Do something in your parish or neighborhood to share your material blessings with those who might otherwise go hungry. Contribute to a food bank or help deliver food baskets.

Make gratitude a habit. Find ways to thank others for their generosity and kindness toward you every day. The late Catholic spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, once wrote that to be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything. Let us use the month of November as an opportunity to grow in stewardship which, simply put, means living a life of gratitude. And as the psalmist encourages us to do: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

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Try one of the following:

Give up complaining focus on gratitude.

Give up cynicism become an optimist.

Give up harsh judgments think kindly thoughts.

Give up worry trust in the Lord.

Give up discouragement become more hopeful.

Give up bitterness turn to forgiveness.

Give up resentment cultivate some humility.

Give up negativism be more positive.

Give up anger be more patient.

Give up pettiness become mature.

Give up gloom learn to smile.

Give up jealousy adopt a generous attitude.

Give up gossiping control your tongue.

Give up tension find more humor.

Give up giving up be persistent in prayer!

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In the early 2000s, when the sex abuse scandal first shocked the Church in the United States, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk (now retired), initiated a program he called “Grateful Believers.” He dedicated his weekly column in the archdiocesan newspaper to reminiscences about people and things for which he was grateful, and he invited all clergy and lay people in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to call to mind similar experiences of gratitude.

Archbishop Pilarczyk’s insight was that if we focus only on the negative, on the sins and scandals, we risk losing sight of the fundamental beauty and goodness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Yes, some Church’s leaders have sinned. Yes, we are right to be embarrassed, angry and hurt. But is that all there is? No.

Think back to the experiences for which you are grateful:  For the gift of Jesus Christ freely given in the Eucharist and all the sacraments; for the Word of God generously shared in the scriptures; for the ministry of good priests, deacons and bishops; for the holy women and men in religious orders, and countless lay people, who have given their lives to proclaim the Gospel, to teach our children and to serve the poor and vulnerable among us. We should be grateful to them—now more than ever—because they did not give up on the wounded Church they served so faithfully.

Are you mad at the pope and the bishops for their failures to protect our children and punish those who committed horrible crimes? Fair enough. There is plenty to be mad about. But is that all there is? No.

There are more than a few reasons to be grateful for the ministry of recent popes, for the leadership of bishops past and present, and for the good priests who have served parishes throughout the United States so faithfully. Name a few of the people you are grateful for. Recall their kindness to you in times of trouble, or their ministry to the sick and elderly members of your family. Thank God for all that they shared with you in homilies or faith sharing sessions. Remember the people who cared unselfishly for the needs of God’s people, and say thank you.

Gratitude is the best cure for anger and depression. It lifts our spirits and calls attention to the blessings we have received—undeservedly and with no strings attached. When we say thank you to God or to another human being, we acknowledge that we are not autonomous, self-sufficient beings but members of God’s family called to love and serve one another.

Grateful believers are not naïve. They do not sweep bad news under the carpet or maintain that no evil has been done by sinful men and women in positions of authority in the Church. Grateful believers are thankful that painful truths are now being told; that Church leaders are cooperating with civil authorities and being accountable for, and transparent about, abuses dating back several generations. Grateful believers are sad and angry, but they refuse to let these emotions paralyze them or cause them to give up on the Church.  

Grateful believers know that the work of Christ must continue—now more than ever. The Gospel must be preached; the faith must be handed on to future generations; and the poor and vulnerable must be served. Whatever evil may have been committed by individual Church leaders, there is still no greater force for good in the United States than the Catholic Church. No institution or community does a better job of resettling refugees, of helping children and families break the cycle of poverty, of caring for the healthcare needs of the indigent poor, of inspiring young people to live lives of generous service, and much more.

Now more than ever, we should give thanks for the sacraments, for the intercession of Mary and all the saints, and for the good work being done every day by lay people, religious, deacons, priests and bishops. Now more than ever, we should be proud of our Church which in spite of its weakness and sin carries on the work of Jesus Christ here and now.

Is it too much to ask that each of us say “thank you” at least once a day for the gifts we have received in and through the Catholic Church? Surely gratitude is better than bitter resentment when it comes to a healthy spiritual life.

Thank you, Pope Francis, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and all you holy priests and deacons, religious women and men, and lay people who serve the Church in our country. We are grateful believers who—in spite of everything—appreciate your ministry now more than ever.

 

            Dan Conway

            dconway@gpcatholic.com

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