In just a few days, our nation will celebrate the national holiday known as Thanksgiving. For many, it will be a day highlighted by a meal of turkey and “all the fixings,” enjoying a day (or maybe even two) off work, and perhaps watching (or even playing) some football.
But in our spiritual lives as Catholics, thanksgiving is not something limited to one day a year. Rather, it is something that is meant to characterize our lives every single day. In fact, it is such a crucial part of our spiritual lives that I hardly believe it is possible to really grow in holiness if one is not living in a state of thanksgiving. St. Paul often wrote about the importance of thanksgiving.
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:1618). And again, “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). And Jesus Himself taught about the importance of this during the incident where he healed ten lepers (Luke 17:1119). After healing all ten and only having one of them return, Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17:1718).
Indeed, it is so important that “in all circumstances” we give thanks. And yet I suspect that many of us struggle with that, at least from time to time. So I would offer a few practical suggestions that might help you to cultivate a greater sense of thanksgiving in your own life.
#1 Avoid the temptation to focus on what you don’t have; always keep your eyes fixed on what you’ve already been given. Focusing on what we DON’T have is always going to be a dead end road, because there will always be things we don’t have. Instead, work to cultivate a spirit of gratitude in your life for what you DO have; what you HAVE been given. The more we can be intentional about that, the better and better we will become at identifying and truly seeing the gifts and blessings we’ve been given. The more we actively choose to focus on the gifts we’ve been given, the more we will improve at recognizing future gifts that we receive from Him.
#2 Avoid the temptation to focus on what others have. This sounds simple but it can be so difficult. It seems that the world around us is constantly trying to get us to focus our eyes on what others have (that we don’t). This tends to lead to envy & jealously and all sorts of related vices, and in its extreme form, actually works to blind us from recognizing the good things we HAVE received.
So, my brothers and sisters, as we celebrate Thanksgiving this coming week, let us all realize that what lies at the heart of this holiday is not turkey or football, but the intentional cultivation of a spirit of gratitude towards God in our lives.
Fr. John Paul