November – A Month to Reflect on Gratitude

“It is gratitude that ultimately asks one thing, but at a great price: fall extravagantly in love with what is given.” Those words were penned by a Jesuit priest, Pat Malone, a man who volunteered for service at Ground Zero after the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings, and who struggled with leukemia and associated complications before succumbing to the disease in his early fifties. A mystic, Father Malone endured, or as he described it, “was given” much suffering. He was also given love, as he was beloved by his parishioners at Creighton University’s parish, St. John’s, who put together a book of his homilies and writings following his death. During the month of November, those of us who live in the United States are focused on a major national holiday, Thanksgiving; the fundamental theme of which is “gratitude.” Gratitude is a foundational principle of Christian stewardship, so November is a great time for stewards to contemplate giving thanks. But sometimes, there is a tendency to get distracted and the deeply spiritual aspect of thankfulness gets lost in the preoccupation with family, home, income – that we often take for granted but pause to acknowledge over the turkey and stuffing.

Father Malone’s words ask us to think much more radically about gratitude. How often are we grateful for “what is given?” Natural disasters have caused immense suffering globally. War and ethnic cleansing continue. Refugees swarm the planet in record-breaking numbers. Mindless violence haunts our streets. How do we fall in love with tragedy? Doesn’t this seem wrong? And in our own lives, troubles and struggles, small and sometimes great, are seldom things for which we pause and give thanks. But as any good spiritual director will tell you, a fundamental question of our prayer lives must be: Where was God in this for you? How did you find God in this event? Perhaps a good November exercise for Christian stewards would be to keep a 30-day journal of thankfulness. But don’t just make it a list of the “good” stuff. Make it a review of the day in which, for better or worse, you found God guiding you through good times and bad. Father Malone suggests that falling in love – extravagantly – with what’s given in your life will exact a great price. What does he mean? How might you be changed? What more ordinary ideas of thankfulness will you put aside as you learn to love your life and your struggle in the given moment?