Dear JSerra Community,
As we approach Thanksgiving Day we think naturally of family, celebration, community, and of course too much good food. I thought I would reflect on yet another joy of Thanksgiving – the sometimes forgotten joy of giving thanks.
My father had an expression which summed up a large part of his philosophy of life, “I never knew a person who was grateful and unhappy or a person who was ungrateful and happy.” Thanksgiving or gratitude is central to our happiness and even our efficacy, for when we are ungrateful and take things for granted, we never see how fortunate we really are. Instead our minds are occupied with the opposite – how unfortunate we are – what other people have that we don’t have – their wealth, talents, intelligence, appearance, position in society, status, and the like. No matter how much we have it always seems that it can never be enough because all we see is our misfortune rather than our “fortune.”
Alternatively, if we don’t take things for granted, we can truly see how fortunate we are. Instead of counting the curses, we count the blessings – the blessings of our families (at least most of the time), the blessing of our faith which has lead us to God and to our eternal life with Him, the blessing of the friendships, jobs, talents, insights, opportunities, and loves that we really do have. When we focus on these blessings, we tend to put misfortunes in their place, pursue opportunities, and develop our relationships. In short we find ourselves happy, and also we become a source of happiness for others, and a source of good for our families, organizations, and society. Thus, thanksgiving is a recipe for sanity, effectiveness, friendship, and the deepest forms of love.
In view of all this, it should not surprise us that thanksgiving is also central to the spiritual life. The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola believed that humble gratitude lies at the center of contemplation. As many of you know, contemplatives seek to know the unconditionally loving heart of God – not only in thought, but in imagination and feelings. The awareness of this love causes us to love in return and this loving relationship with God is truly happiness – or as the contemplatives say, “sublime joy.” This joy moves us to serve the Kingdom, inspires us to give hope to others, deepens our humility and love, and makes us conscience of God’s continuous loving presence. All of which transforms us into apostles for Christ and agents of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that this has made me happy for thirty-six years of Jesuit life.
But what does this have to do with gratitude or Thanksgiving? Everything! For as St. Ignatius noticed, the grateful person sees blessing, and the awareness of this blessing leads to an even deeper awareness of being loved by the Lord. The awareness of this love, in turn, leads to trust and hope in Him, and above all, to love of Him. This trust, hope, and love frees us to love one another with greater humility, compassion, and empathy; for when our center and strength is the Lord, we don’t have to be better than everyone, smarter than everyone, more talented than everyone, more powerful than everyone, more beautiful than everyone, more athletic than everyone – all we need is to be is loved by God and inspired to love others and to serve the Kingdom. We can then concentrate on developing and using every talent and resource we have to make the optimal positive difference to our families, friends, communities, institutions, organizations, churches, and God’s Kingdom. What could be better than a life filled with good friends, supportive families, inspiration, and optimal contribution to the world and the Kingdom?
I have learned from experience that my father was right. Thanksgiving and happiness are inextricably intertwined and complementary, and this is the source of grace and eternal love – true happiness.
May all of you have a very joyous Thanksgiving.
God bless you through your acts of “giving thanks.”
Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J.