Every year, when the page of the calendar turns to November, I begin to ponder the celebration of the Thanksgiving Holiday. One of my traditional practices in preparation for the holiday is to create a special list. It is a list of some of the “little things” for which I am grateful. By designating these items as “little things,” I certainly am not labeling them as of lesser importance; rather, they are more like things which are quite valuable but often are overlooked. Here is my list for this year.
I am thankful for …
- People who still hold the door open for others to enter. They let us know that courtesy and manners have not died.
- No mail delivery on Sunday. It seems right that at least some forms of labor should cease on the Lord’s Day.
- Rest Areas along the highway. I call them the highway department’s version of Chapels of St. Jude. I seem to need to visit them more and more each year.
- People who do NOT tailgate when driving behind you. That is not only a practice of safety but also a sign of respect. Most tailgaters are conveying that their schedule and destination are more important than yours.
- The “Yellow Line” on TV football games that marks the first-down yardage. There is something nice about tangible goals.
- Warm sweaters. They make you feel like you are being enfolded in the warmth of God’s love.
- Gentle moments of silence and stillness. There is something holy about the quiet. It is like providing an empty canvas for God to paint upon.
- People who say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. In addition to their kindness, they remind us that prayers do not have to be long to be heartfelt.
- People who sit in the middle of a row of chairs or pews to allow room for others to be seated near the end. They are the unsung heroes of hospitality.
- People who smile a lot. It is said that joy is a sign of the presence of God.
- Children who still play games outside with their neighbors. There is something refreshing about play when it is pure and spontaneous.
- Modesty in personality, speech and attire. They quietly give witness to the virtue of humility.
I have a strong conviction that the matter of expressing gratitude is an act of the will that needs to be exercised. Now, I know that other people tend to claim that gratitude is more cognitive than volitional. After all, one often hears people speak about the “attitude of gratitude.” While I would agree that developing such an attitude makes a great deal of sense, I do not believe that this captures a significantly vital component of thankfulness.
A cognitive sense of gratitude seems to suggest that an attitude of gratitude is permanently fixed. It assumes that once we learn to perceive things from this framework, the feeling of appreciation will always be present. And I do not think such is the case. Gratitude definitely can be fleeting — at least in my life. Unfortunately, there are times when my sense of appreciation and value slip away. For example, there have been times when I have faced an illness and sought the care of a physician that I made a pledge that if I am healed, I will never take good health for granted. Yet, sadly, when the illness goes away, it does not take long for the busyness of life to crowd my mind and the day-to-day details of life to distract me from the proper recognition of the blessing of good health. I end up taking such health for granted instead of cherishing the gift constantly and offering to the Lord the appropriate acknowledgement.
So, I do believe that there needs to be a volitional aspect to gratitude. We have to not only “think it” but also “do it.” It is much like a muscle that needs extension. One often hears an expression in terms of the fitness of the muscles of the body, “use it or lose it.” I believe the same thing could be said of gratitude. We have to be extending ourselves continuously.
That is why it is so important for us to celebrate the Mass. It is the most privileged way that we know to express gratitude. As you recall, the formal title for the Mass is the Greek word eucharistia, which means thanksgiving. In celebrating the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, gratitude is drawn from us as we acknowledge the most magnanimous act known in the history of the world, the Paschal Mystery, the saving death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the command of the Catholic Church to celebrate the Mass weekly — at the minimum — is a powerful recognition of the need to exercise our sense of gratitude.
Therefore, as we enter more deeply into the month of November and we approach the joy of Thanksgiving, let us make a special promise to not reserve our sense of thankfulness to a single holiday. Instead, let us make a commitment each and every day to look for reasons not just to think our gratitude but also to engage it. Let us go out of our way to express and demonstrate concomitantly a gracious response, which matches goodness for goodness.