Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Holidays Call Us to Remember, Be Grateful and Hope

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Once the calendar turned over to October, we began my favorite time of year, the secular and religious Holiday Trinity – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas or as some of the discount stores display it, “Hallowgivingmas”.  Like the ghosts who visit Ebenezer, these three celebrations arrive both expectedly and unexpectedly, kind of in a blur, bringing memories of our pasts, demands on present lives and dreams about our futures.  The middle celebration, which many say is their “favorite” of the three, is part of our “American Civil Religion.”  This national observance recalls the arrival of the pilgrims to Plymouth as part of the story of our founding as a nation. From my observance, though, Thanksgiving has become more of a speed bump on the road to Christmas. For many, Thanksgiving is more of a national rationalization that we are not as materialistic or greedy as the next few weeks actually seem to demonstrate. Still being grateful is an important virtue for Christians to cultivate, especially beyond the few minutes before the annual Turkey feast.

So while most Americans are remembering to give thanks for health, home and hearth during November’s annual indulgence, all three celebrations remind us people of faith to spend time practicing both as individuals and as communities the virtue of gratefulness. So what are we grateful for? All Hallows followed All Souls and All Saints, invites us to remember fondly and give thanks for our dearly departed, the friends and family who have graced our lives and gave it both substance and meaning.   Thanksgiving, of course is all about cultivating gratefulness, especially for our present lives, the gifts and blessings we receive each day, the simple moments that bring joy and the challenges that bring growth. And finally with Christmas gratitude may be tough in light of all the stress and busyness the season brings but it too is ultimately a call to thank our God, for sending us His Only Begotten Son, for ushering in the Kingdom of Love, Justice and Peace, and for the hope of Eternal Life that arrived in that little town called Bethlehem..

Loyola-Marymount Professor of Spirituality Willie Au and his therapist wife Noreen Cannon Au write in their wonderful book, The Grateful Heart that “a spirituality of gratitude must lead us beyond the subjective well-being espoused by positive psychology to a holiness that is at once earthy and mystical.”

Earthy and mystical… sounds like being Catholic to me!  As Catholics, we gather as regular people who live everyday lives; we work and go to Mass, try to watch our weight, we worry about our children and play with our grandchildren.  We argue and make up with our spouses, we make love, have glass of wine, go out to dinner with friends and family. And when we gather in Jesus’ name, we are on Holy Ground. Whether we are at church, in our homes or at Starbuck’s, whenever we share faith and life God is with us.  We share stories of His presence, of his great love and mercy, of our need for forgiveness and our desire to be good and compassionate. We share because we are grateful for all that God has done, is doing and will do in the days, weeks, month and years we have yet to live. 

While every human being should cultivate an attitude of gratitude as positive psychology would say, I think those of us who gather in Jesus’ name have a particular obligation to be grateful. Often we are more aware of God’s presence in our lives because we are aware of what He is doing in the lives of those in our faith communities. Our mission as Catholics, given to us at Baptism, is to bring faith, hope and love to our families, neighborhoods, workplaces and especially to our struggling and challenging world.  What better way to be grateful than to share the love and mercy we have experienced as we sort the candy, pass the cranberry sauce, wrap gifts or while waiting for the tamales to steam. “God is Good… All the time and All the Time … We are called to be grateful!”

For Sharing: 
As you gather with family, friends and co-workers throughout the upcoming “holidaze” take time to name what God has done in your life this year, what has given you hope? What challenges have tempted you to give up gratitude and give in to cynicism, worry or despair?  How did you overcome them?

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