We have just celebrated the second Thanksgiving Day of the current pandemic. Regardless of the uncertainty that continues to surround us, what is important is that we can still reflect on being grateful as we mark this holiday. This year, aside from asking, “What are you thankful for?” I’d like to challenge you to think about what it means to be thankful in the first place. What is gratitude, and why is it important to be grateful?
Gratitude can be understood as a response of appreciation towards a person who wills our good through words and actions. It is much easier to be grateful when the goodwill of the other person is evident — for example, when a friend gives a gift for our birthday or a spouse does something special for an anniversary or God answers a prayer in the way we hoped.
Sometimes, however, it is not as easy to realize that the other person is willing our good, and we are not as ready to be grateful. In terms of interpersonal relationships, this can happen when a family member places limitations on another’s behaviors when those behaviors are becoming destructive or sinful, or when a boss imposes disciplinary action on one of his employees. It’s hard to thank someone who is demonstrating “tough love,” but at the end of the day, the lover is simply doing what is right.
This dynamic can happen in our relationship with God as well. Our faith implies that we trust in God’s desire to want what is for our good, which comes from the very nature of God. God is love. God is mercy. God is justice. When we grow in appreciation of who God is, we understand that everything that God does, everything that God allows to happen in our lives, and every aspect of God’s revelation of himself, is ultimately for our good. The Ten Commandments, the Life of Christ, The Passion and Resurrection, the Descent of the Holy Spirit … all these are for our benefit because we are beloved children of God. When we meditate on these mysteries, we discover our place in God’s plan and we are assured that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
When events do not turn out as we hoped, when we get sick, when a loved one dies — during times when it is not easy to realize that God is willing our good — we can still be truly grateful to God. That is when we have the grace of perseverance to know that things are unfolding according to God’s will and we have the courage to surrender to the Divine Will. We can be a eucharistic people.
May we all find peace and comfort as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Let us pray for an end to this pandemic so that we can once again lovingly embrace each other and sing God’s praises.
(Father Joseph Sia is pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.)