By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde
Count your blessings: an age-old maxim passed down to children in every generation. As we mature, we realize that this lesson which we were taught in our youth was not given to us so that we would quantify our blessings or keep track of what we possessed. Instead, it was meant to teach us how to form a grateful spirit, a disposition of thankfulness. By stopping to take note of what we had been given, we could better avoid the temptation to complain about our circumstances or succumb to an insatiable appetite in which we always desire more than what we have. It encouraged us to be satisfied, to be attentive to what we really needed and what talents we had been given.
During this week, we pause on Thanksgiving Day to reflect with family and friends about the manifold ways that we have been individually and communally blessed. Some will gather with loved ones at tables to share meals, conversation, memories, and prayers. Others will spend their day offering food to the hungry and being present to those who are without a family of their own. It is a day to pause, to take respite from our busy schedules, and to say “Thank you.” We will surely express our gratitude to one another, but we should also remember to thank God, Who is the source of all blessings.
St. Paul tells us that a grateful spirit is an essential factor in helping us to know the peace of Christ. Worry and anxiety are understandable responses to the many difficulties that we face each and every day. Today, there is certainly no shortage of things that cause us concern. But as St. Paul instructs, our hearts can know peace in the midst of difficulties if we are inclined to develop the habit of being grateful.
Developing this habit takes time and discipline. It requires that we create the space for silence each day to reflect on how God has been present to us, where His providential hand guided our daily activities and where His grace was at work in us and in our relationships. This is not easy in a noisy culture, but it is possible if we are serious about its importance in our lives.
This is the purpose of the nightly examination of conscience which the Church prescribes. It is not merely an exercise to see where we have failed to respond to God’s grace. Rather, it also helps us to recognize when we did respond to Him and to reflect on how often His grace was presented to us. In fact, the more we practice this, the more easily we will see that everything — absolutely everything — is a gift from God. Our Holy Father Pope Francis echoes this: “If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength!” (cf. Pope Francis, Mass for the Marian Day in the Year of Faith, Oct. 13, 2013)
I, for one, remain grateful for the many ways that God has blessed me as your shepherd. Throughout this year, I have had the opportunity to see members of this diocese live out their faith with hearts on fire. I have seen you bring your faith “to the margins” as Pope Francis says, by stocking food pantries, praying for an end to abortion outside of local clinics, and renovating and rebuilding homes for diocesan residents at Work Camp. Others have offered their time and talents as catechists, still others as organists, lectors, and cantors at the Mass. And many others serve our students as teachers, administrators, and coaches. I cannot forget the witness of my brother priests, who lay down their lives in order to accompany the faithful in their spiritual journey. And with gratitude I point to our permanent deacons and other women and men religious, both active and contemplative, and the many lay faithful who build up the Kingdom of God in our diocese.
My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that this Thanksgiving is a day filled with joy for you and your loved ones. Most of all, I pray that it will inspire you to take time each day to stop and reflect on how the Lord Jesus accompanies you at every moment, to see how God has continually blessed you!
Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.
Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, and his recent letter on the new evangelization, Go Forth with Hearts on Fire, are available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.