November 20, 2012

MISSION MATTERS: Giving Thanks

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Nearly all religions and faith traditions in the world have special prayers and ceremonies or blessings for giving thanks after hard times or good times, for harvests, or special events in the religion or for individuals. In the United States, tradition holds that our early European settlers gave thanks for their tenuous survival, after an ill-prepared expedition and subsequent very difficult times. They celebrated their deliverance from doom and the new hope they had been given. This week let us not forget about the real meaning of our American Thanksgiving Day.

For our ancestors, Thanksgiving was not a time to celebrate the end of hardship or the beginning of a more perfect time, but a festive, grateful occasion, marking a moment of awareness — there can be hope and gratitude, even in the most bleak of times and situations. With each ensuing harvest, farmers thankfully marked the end of the long, hard work required to grow their crops. Their thanksgiving recognizes that the fruitfulness of the bounty is not dependent on or proportional to human actions alone, but to the many factors — often uncontrollable — which contribute to the process of farming.

So in the gray autumn days, surrounded by bare fields, farmers — then and now — celebrated not just their own efforts, but also the ways God encouraged and supported those efforts, the many ways God had allowed their work to bear fruit. This "fruit of the earth" and their accompanying gratitude, they prayed, will feed them physically and spiritually, and will give them hope of a more-promising future.

Thanksgiving calls us to a new awareness of our surroundings. For St. Ignatius, this meant that we pray that we see our world and our lives as God sees it, as God sees us, as life really is, and as we really are. In his Examen, he teaches us that the first thing we need to do is to ask God to see our lives, our world, in a new light, a different way, with new vision. As Ignatius certainly knew from his own life, we all seem to see the bad or negative things in our lives and actions, rather than working with those things, to live beyond them. He knew we need help to remember the blessings and the positive actions which are also part of our lives. From this wider perspective, we can better see ourselves, our world, and be really grateful for all of the blessings we have. From this wider perspective, we can make the corrections we may need in our lives ... from this wider perspective.

As we busily prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a day often of too much food, a day of sleep conversations and laughter, a day of giving thanks for so many things, let us also take a little time to become more aware our own fields, perhaps ready for harvest.

Let us ask God for the light we might need, to see beyond the grayness of our skies, the feeling of weariness after long hard days of work. Let us ask God to allow us to see that we are truly blessed, not just from our own efforts, but blessed most by those things over which we have no real control. Let us use God's perspective to see that our greatest blessings are not on the tables before us, but in the people with whom we share the table, the people with whom we share our lives. We are each and all blessed, not just for what we have or have not done, but because of God's love for each of us.

So as we fill our plates, pass the cranberry sauce and hope that the gravy makes it to us again, let us give thanks for our friends and family, even for each other; even perhaps, for ourselves. Let us ask God to bless those people who have not been able to see their blessings, or who do not have people around them, and thank God for all the gifts we've been so abundantly given. Let us ask God to keep us aware of all those in our city and world who do not have the same opportunities or blessings we enjoy.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!
Remember to leave room for dessert.
A. M. D. G

D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.

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