To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
-Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
This will be no ordinary Thanksgiving.
As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I want to share my prayers and best wishes with you, the American Brothers, Associates and our Collaborators for a spiritually meaningful remembrance and celebration of all the goodness we experience each day in our families, our communities and in our schools. I also want to share our American Thanksgiving with our Brothers in Belgium, Congo, Kenya, Haiti, Bolivia and Lithuania. You are very much in my prayers.
This will be no ordinary Thanksgiving. The tragic events of the past week and in recent months point to that reality. It is becoming clearer to me that what we share as believers transcends our difference in language, culture and national origin.
The horrible image the world saw a few weeks ago of the three year old Syrian refugee child lying dead and face down in the sea still haunts me, as well as the emotional testimony of Nohemi Gonzalez’s friends that we heard this week. “Nohemi simply loved life,” her friends said. This 23 year old American student was studying in Paris. Her life’s dream was snuffed out by terrorists as they attacked a Parisian restaurant. Three hundred ninety-seven innocent people have been killed in the bombing of the Russian plane over Egypt and the suicide bombings in Beirut, and now Paris. That is horror upon horror.
As Americans we are more conscious of our connectedness to the rest of the world due to these acts of brutality. No doubt there is much pain, turmoil and fear in our world. This year’s celebration of Thanksgiving challenges us to penetrate more deeply the meaning of the feast and to come in touch with our vulnerability as human beings. Thomas Merton gives us some insights in his thoughts on the spirituality of gratitude.
Gratitude is about a deep relationship in which we experience the God of love. As Merton noted “the grateful person knows God’s goodness, not by hearsay, but by his or her own experiences.” This belief is also challenging. Gratitude goes beyond words and ritual. It is a way of embracing life. It requires both mindfulness and willingness to express the desires of the heart.
Faced with the brutality of what is happening to innocent people, my immediate reaction was one of disbelief, sadness, and anger. I don’t believe that my reactions to what is happening are unique to me. Yet I also know I am called to witness God’s love and not to get caught up in the web of hatred spun by the terrorists.
We know that God does not will evil. As Xaverians we know we are called to “minister God’s healing touch of love, through word and deed, to all whom you meet in your journey of life.”(FP) Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for them. That is a challenge.
When faced with difficult and hard to explain situations, I frequently refer to Saint Ignatius’ spiritual directive of finding God in everyday life. Even in these acts of terrorism? Yes and I struggle with that.
Where is God in this? I sense that God is in the courage and compassion of the first responders, the police, military and medical staffs who risked their lives for the victims. I see God in the outpouring of love and care of so many people throughout the world who are touched directly or indirectly by the horror of these events. My struggle deals with one question. What am I going to do about the dead Syrian child, for example?
In his New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton also gives us some sound advice. “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny and greed, but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” So I have to start with me. I thank God for the spiritual tradition that we share. It helps me deal with situations like the one our world is presently encountering.
This year as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to remember all those who are suffering because of these acts of violence or other injustices. I will follow Ignatius’ advice by taking the time to reflect on the ways I find God every day. I will to spend time remembering those who have been truly present to me and to others. I will spend time recalling the quiet and ordinary ways we have supported each other. I will give thanks for small acts of compassion and the little ways we bring joy to others.
Yes this will be no ordinary Thanksgiving. I pray that each of us feels the presence of God more deeply in our lives and that each of us is filled with gratitude for the love God shares with us. I pray that gratitude becomes a way of living that impels us to embrace our future with hope.
In Christ’s love,