Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2017 / 09:07 am (CNA).- The best feast our family has ever had was in a hospital room, four years ago, on Christmas. Our daughter was being treated for leukemia, and my wife was living in the hospital with her. My son and I brought supplies for a makeshift picnic, and the four of us spent a long afternoon, with an acute sense of gratitude for the gift of one another’s presence.
Our daughter spent almost a year in cancer treatment, most of it living with my wife in a hospital’s oncology wing, an hour away. It was a difficult time, in which we faced the difficulty of our daughter’s illness, and the difficulty of being often separated.
And yet, we were aware then, as we are now, what a graced time that was for our family. We were aware of how much the Lord was doing for us. We were aware how much he was providing for us. We were aware, in short, how much we had to be thankful for.
When we find ourselves radically dependent on the Lord to get us through a time of trial or suffering, we become aware of how much love he pours out into our lives. When we can’t ignore how much we need the Lord, we become all the more aware of what he’s doing for us. This is why times of trial are also, so often, times of deep and sincere gratitude.
I’m often amazed when I talk with missionaries, living in very difficult circumstances, who seem also to live with a real sense of what God has given them, and real gratitude for how he has loved them. Their lives, which are often unpredictable and uncomfortable, seem to inculcate an understanding of what it means to depend on Divine Providence, and a gratitude for the small graces the Lord has given them.
It’s much more difficult to really be thankful when we are comfortable enough to maintain illusions of self-sufficiency, or to focus on trivialities and our petty desires. It is often harder to see the ways the Lord is working in our lives when we have settled into a kind of pleasant complacency in ordinary living.
This is a reminder that disciples of Jesus should avoid the kind of comfortable complacency that the world often calls success or security. That the illusions of security and worldly success are inimical to the kinds of circumstances in which we grow in intimate unity, and sincerity gratitude, for the Lord.
In short, when our lives require sacrifice, or entail hardship, because we are stretched by the demands of love, we are far more likely to experience the power of God’s goodness, and to be grateful for the ways in which he loves us.
If we want a deeper unity with God, we should consider the ways in which he invites us to deny ourselves for the sake of love, and we should pick up our crosses. If we want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes from real, and powerful, experiences of God’s Providence, we need to give up the idea that our lives are our own, and offer them more fully and freely to the Lord.
A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of bishops, priests, and Church leaders, at which we discussed some of the challenges the Church is facing in contemporary American culture. Most of those challenges are well known. It was important to discuss those challenges openly, but by the end of the day, many of us were feeling very discouraged.
After the meeting, I talked with a friend who said that we should be grateful for the challenges of our secular world. He said that it will likely become harder to be a faithful Catholic in our world in the years to come. And he said that the difficulties might invite more of us to intimate unity with God.
This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the crosses the Lord has already placed in our lives – the illnesses or struggles which are the occasions in which Christ reveals the depth and constancy of his love for us. We should ask the Lord the ways he is calling us to give ourselves over more concretely to love, and thank him for opportunities to grow in wonder and appreciation for his Providence. And we should thank the Lord for the challenges which may lie ahead us, which might deepen our faith and dependence on the grace of God.
“In all circumstances,” writes St. Paul, “give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This Thanksgiving, no matter our circumstances, let us give thanks for the love, goodness, and generosity of Jesus Christ, our King.