Thank you, Jesus!

It was a Sunday evening in early spring. “Annie,” a young woman we had known for several years in our Visitation Mission, was overwhelmed with the stress of a being a single mom unexpectedly pregnant again and the everyday challenge of providing for her children. Struggling with a decision for life for her unborn child and very vulnerable to abortion, we invited her to join us for dinner at our East 66th Street convent. She brought along Mia, her energetic and curious 4-year-old. After some good home-style cooking, we invited Annie and Mia to join us in our tiny midtown Manhattan chapel for Holy Hour. Mia sat surprisingly attentive and still as we gazed at Jesus truly present in the monstrance. When Adoration finished, we took our places again at the table to enjoy some after dinner coloring and games. Struck by her demeanor during prayer, we asked, “Mia, you were so quiet in the chapel! Were you talking to Jesus?” Thinking a moment, she said “Yeah.” The conversation continued, “What were you saying?” She answered, “Thank you.” The sisters exchanged smiles and raised eyebrows as one said, “Thank you? For what?” Mia continued matter of fact, “For a hug!” In utter astonishment Sister asked, “Jesus hugged you?” Mia’s simple reply: “Yeah!”

In that crowded chapel, in the midst of her mother’s crisis, Mia was open to receive Jesus’ love for her and her heart’s natural response was: “Thank you!” Fr. Jacques Philippe of the Community of the Beatitudes says, “Gratitude is the sign that I believe in the love of God and I receive the love of God.” How much we need each day, like Mia, to sit quietly in the reality of God’s love for each of us and to respond with thanks! When we practice gratitude, we respond as children of God, aware of the Father’s blessings in our lives and seeking to respond with praise and thanksgiving. This can change our hearts from tending towards complaining or being prideful and instead lead us to joy! We are actually happier people mentally and physically when we live gratitude. A recent study published by the Journal of Health Psychology discusses how young women who daily practiced gratitude for just two weeks reported greater well-being, optimism, lower blood pressure, and better quality sleep. Talk about some inexpensive therapy!

Living gratitude is living as Jesus lived. At the raising of Lazarus He says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me,” (Jn 11:41-42). The episode of the ten lepers throws into sharp relief how important thanksgiving is to the Heart of Jesus. Jesus said: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Lk. 17: 17-18). Even the word we use of Jesus’ gift of His Body and Blood to us is the “Eucharist,” the root of which means “thanksgiving.” When we practice gratitude, we live like Jesus and we are, like Him, brought into deeper Communion with the Father who loved us into existence and sustains us even now.

Looking over our lives through the lens of God’s loving providence and mercy can inspire in us a deep wellspring of gratitude. But in addition, we can daily practice gratitude in the little things: “Lord, thank you for the warm sun today on this chilly fall afternoon. Thank you for the delicious apples we picked the other day. Thank you for helping me find a parking space this morning. Thank you so much that my watch still works after I accidentally washed it in the laundry!” A little silly? Yes! But real! We can practice trust in God in each moment, whatever comes, and praise and thank God for it. And when we do it in the ordinary things, the Lord helps us to more easily give thanks even in difficult trials. As St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:18).

Mia and Annie were not living in a perfect family situation. Yet Mia reminds us that even amidst struggles and difficult situations, gratitude should always be the disposition of the human heart. We need to come into contact with God each day with a heart open to receive His love in order to be aware of our blessings. Conversely, practicing gratitude can create the space within us where a deeper union with God can occur. Imitating the natural wisdom of her daughter, Annie is now looking forward with gratitude to the birth of her son in just a few weeks. Like Mia in Adoration, gazing at He Who is Thanksgiving Himself, let us begin this day to open our eyes more fully to God’s abundant blessings and respond with hearts and lives that sing His praises in thanksgiving.

Father, we praise You, we bless You and we thank You for Your great fidelity, mercy, and love! We beg You to pour out upon us your Spirit of gratitude and give us the eyes to see your grand gifts to us throughout our lives and Your quiet faithful love each day. Give us hearts to recognize Your presence with us at all times, sustaining us and giving us hope. Father, we abandon ourselves to your Merciful Love and surrender all our worries, concerns, and anxieties to Your provident Hands. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] Jackowska M, Brown J, Ronaldson A, Steptoe A. “The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep.” Journal of Health Psychology. 2 March 2015. Web. 26 March 2015.