Developing a Christ-like attitude of gratitude Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

On July 4, 1939, the New York Yankees sponsored a memorable Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. Though he was dying at age 36, Gehrig told the surprised crowd, "I'm the luckiest guy on the face of the earth."

Gehrig was thankful because he had a Hall of Fame baseball career, a wonderful wife, family, friends, fans, teammates, and much more. He and Babe Ruth were teammates on one of the greatest teams in baseball history.

Thanking God for blessings

On Thanksgiving Day we gather with family and friends to share a meal and thank God for our cornucopia of blessings as Lou Gehrig did.

America's Thanksgiving Day began with the pilgrims. H.U. Westermayer wrote that the pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts during that first hard year in the new world.

Despite a long, hard winter during which half of them died from scurvy and exposure to the elements, the remaining pilgrims were so thankful they survived that they invited Indian friends to share a three-day thanksgiving feast.

Attitude of gratitude

Samuel Johnson wrote that gratitude is the fruit of great cultivation. Our parents taught us to be thankful, but we must strive daily to develop a Christ-like attitude of gratitude.

When we are grateful, we enjoy life more and appreciate what we have rather than constantly agonizing about what we don't have. Gratitude is a sign of mature character.

To grow in gratitude, we must develop the Christ-like vision to see our hidden blessings in the ordinary. For example, a blind woman miraculously recovered her sight and went into ecstasy when she saw soap bubbles, babies, autumn leaves, and other every day miracles. She was grateful for the sight to see the beauty in sunrises, ears to hear a cricket's chirp, and feet to hobble to church.

Sr. Mary Benedicta Kennedy, OP, a contemporary of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, wrote, "Father Samuel was the gladdest of creatures. The sight of a flower, a weed, seemed to throw him into an ecstasy at times."

Appreciating our blessings

In her book, Everything Sacred, Sue Bender shares how she trained herself to look with fresh eyes to see what was there all along but she was too blind to see. Lately I daily review my blessings. It helps me see my baskets of blessings I would otherwise not see.

Sometimes we don't appreciate what we have until we see what others don't have. This is captured in an old expression, "I had the blues because I had no shoes until I saw a man with no feet."

Dorothy Day was one of two American Catholics whom Pope Francis especially praised in his visit to the U. S. Congress. After her conversion to Catholicism, Day spent much of her life sharing her blessings with the poor as a way of thanking God. She was co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

Ellen Egan, her close friend, said that, no matter what the situation, Dorothy found something for which to be thankful. Once she and Dorothy were on a ferryboat. Dorothy wore a thin coat and was freezing. Fortunately, she had a newspaper, which she put under her coat and wrapped around her. As she did, she smiled and said, "I thank the homeless for teaching me how to keep warm."

Another time she said, "I'm so grateful that Jesus lived on the earth that sometimes I feel like kneeling and kissing the earth because Jesus walked on it."

On her tombstone on Staten Island are inscribed the words, "Deo Gratias" that is, "Thanks be to God."

Each day is a gift

Each day is God's gift to us. What we do with our day is our gift to God. Each day offers many opportunities to be grateful for our blessings. Cecily Saunders, founder of modern hospice, began each day with the prayer, "Lord, show me how to be thankful today."

Since the word Eucharist means thanksgiving, we can thank God for our blessings by participating in a Thanksgiving Day Mass. Seeing and being thankful for our blessings every day prepares us to participate fully, consciously, and actively in Mass. At the end of Mass we are commissioned to go in peace to thank God by sharing our blessings with others.

We can thank God daily for eyes to see the beauty of creation, for ears to still hear the words "I love you!" and for legs to walk the extra mile to help others. We can contribute to a food pantry, to a special collection for the needy, sponsor a Third World child, call or invite a lonely person to a Thanksgiving Dinner. May we enjoy a Thanksgiving meal stuffed not just with turkey, but also with cornucopias of thanks.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.