The Grace of Gratitude

As we prepare for Christmas we have entered into a season of memories.  I remember so much, how our Montana home came to life at this time.  Ten busy children directed by two devoted parents worked together, in more or less an orderly fashion, to bring forward a hopefully joyous occasion.  My father brought home bounties of farm produce and goods given by generous patrons of his rural mail route.  Mother worked as mothers do, overseeing an equitable apportioning and wrapping of gifts, reaching out to extended family, and planning the festivities.  All of us were united in anticipation of a special event and, of course, there was always much else going on.  For example, there was often an overabundance of snow that needed to be shoveled twice a day. One memory led to another, and another, and so on. 

Precious times and memories are given for a purpose.  By now many of us have turned a few corners in our lives and have known some ups and downs.  Life has its own harshness, and we take it one day at a time.  Perhaps when positive memories arise, we dismiss them as irrelevant or distracting.  Yet in remembering and reviewing past blessings we have the opportunity to re-enter the fertile ground of gratitude.  It is in gratitude that we find our spirits lifted, and where we find God close at hand.

Years ago, in seminary, I heard a man speak who was nationally recognized for his work with troubled youth.  He spoke at length about his one and only technique for turning their lives around.  “When I get these kids, they are truly damaged,” he said. They have been hurt and have hurt others, they have no hope, they are on the verge of jail, or just getting out.  They are hate-filled, defiant and alone, the worst cases.  I tell them to think of three things to thank God for and write them down.  Most can’t even think of one.  But we get started trying, maybe it takes a day or two, I don’t let up.  Then, they finally think of one thing, that leads to two and three, and when they get into it they start writing and there’s no stopping them.  They find themselves in a new world, thanking God.  That’s how we turn their lives around.  We, meaning God, me, and them, we turn their lives around.  They come back years later and talk about how important the lesson was. 

If we reflect on the fact that ingratitude is the basis of all sin, we can easily see how this lesson works.  There is a further, intrinsic connection of gratitude with its twin sister, humility.  To be truly grateful is to enter into the rich world of humility, the place where Jesus dwells.  When He says“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He teaches the first, most important step in finding blessing in life, the blessing of humility from which all blessings flow.  The path of all blessings, humility, is the path of gratitude, humbly thanking God in all things.  By choosing this path we are blessing God Himself.  What an awesome and breathtaking adventure this is! 

This year we will encounter a new Christmas, a new time of peace, hope and joy.  We will remember again a time long ago in a place far away, where a virgin gave birth to a child in a manger.  Remembering this humble beginning in all its rich detail touches us at the core of our humanity.  Remembering the miserable circumstances of it all, with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Angels, we experience the glory of God.  Allowing the graces of gratitude to flow, in humble, prayerful joy we see that we are there with Him and that He is here with us. May we all know this joy, and receive all blessings, so that we all may have a most blessed Christmas!