Thursday, November 25, 2010

Deo Gratias

Our nation's annual Thanksgiving Day reflects not only our gratitude for heaven's blessings (notably food and peace), it also prompts us to be happy.

I've read that increased happiness is one spin-off of gratitude.

The person who is grateful is a person who is, in the words of a Benedictine spiritual writer, "awake, aware, and alert." Brother David Steindl-Rast believes these three practices are "the beginning, middle, and end of gratitude."

(Brother David, age 84, is an Austrian-born Benedictine monk whose teaching about the spiritual life has been heard and embraced all around the world.)

The first step toward gratitude, David explains, is to wake up to the surprises that come in every day life. Many things happen to us and around us during the course of a day that come as complete surprises. Being open to surprise and even embracing it is the attitude which leads to gratitude.

Step two is looking for opportunities to enjoy. David says that most of the day's happenings provide us with opportunities for enjoyment --"to enjoy sounds, smells, tastes, texture, colors, and with still deeper joy, friendliness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, honesty, and all those gifts that soften the soil of our heart like warm spring rain."

"Responding alertly" is the third step. David explains, "Once we are in practice for being awake to surprise and being aware of the opportunity at hand, we will spontaneously be alert in our response. And the response is to enjoy the surprise.

Brother summarizes his conviction in these words: "My simple recipe for a joyful day is this: stop and wake up; look and be aware of what you see; then go on with all the alertness you can muster for the opportunity the moment offers.

"This recipe for grateful living sounds simple --because it is. But simple does not mean easy...Growth in gratitude is growth in maturity...When I am grateful, I am neither rushing nor slouching through my day --I'm dancing."

David's process for achieving an attitude of gratitude can be applied to the celebration of the Mass. What would happen if a congregation full of worshippers went to Sunday liturgy with the intention of being "awake" (open to surprises), of being "aware" (looking for enjoyment), and of "responding alertly" (deciding to enjoy)?

It is not without reason that the Catholic Mass is more accurately called "Eucharist." The New Testament uses the Greek word eucharistia to express the idea of giving thanks. The whole Mass is a thanksgiving.

Some who attend Mass miss this underlying theme of the liturgy. It never occurs to them that they have come to give thanks to God. David's suggestions about being awake, aware and alert would open up the liturgy and the congregation to a genuine expression of gratitude, and surely the spin-off of that gratitude would be increased happiness for those who pray.

Every Mass concludes with the same words: "Thanks be to God!" Some Catholics say those words because they are relieved that the Mass is finally over. Some say those words without thinking. Some others, however, who are awake, aware and alert, say those words because they are genuinely grateful.

For Catholics every Sunday (indeed every day) is thanksgiving day! Every Mass is a thanksgiving meal!

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