Some years ago the popular spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen took a leave from his position at Yale Divinity School and went to Peru for a year. Nouwen worked and lived among the poor in the outskirts of Lima. Upon his return, he wrote a best selling book entitled, GRACIAS. He titled the book “Thank You” for he found the sentiment of gratitude so prevalent among the poor that he was both astonished and ediﬁed by them. Fr. Nouwen witnessed the poverty and suﬀerings of the Peruvian people while, at the same time, their sense of gratitude for everything.
The word “gracias” permeated not only their life style but also their view of life and God. Often the “gracias” was spoken as “Gracias a Dios”. The simplest act was completed with a prayer of thanks to God. Fr. Nouwen laid bare the irony that those who have little are often very grateful while those who have much more are often less grateful. Naturally, one would think the reverse would be true. In fact, the irony is often carried even to the extremes: sometimes those who have abundance want more and feel entitled to more and those with very little are grateful and content.
This week, we North Americans celebrate one of the most cherished of our national holidays, Thanksgiving. Surely we are a blessed people and it has been my experience that most Americans embrace this holiday with a deeply sincere sense of gratitude. Our gratitude is felt at many levels: to family, loved ones, our nation, and most importantly, to God. All of us agree that the day is so important. And, like you, I recall memories of childhood celebrations that I cherish of families coming together and, at a table laden with abundance, pausing in a formal and beautiful way to thank God for all blessings.
Our reality is that the day comes and goes and the busyness of life can so distract us that our sense of gratitude can become dulled. We can fall into the trap of forgetting and not acknowledging God’s blessings in our life. The worries and challenges can draw us away from the truth that we are ﬁrst and foremost God’s most precious children and blessed beyond measure. When I re-capture this truth, suddenly everything is reordered. I see things in a new light and priorities are re-established. My sense of the rightness of seeing God as the giver of so much is both freeing and humbling.
Next Thursday, we will gather with our loved ones and, even in the midst of the worries and challenges of these times, we know we have so much for which to be grateful. I will spend this beautiful day with the Rostro de Cristo community in Guayaquil, Ecuador. There with 13 North American volunteer missionaries, we will have Mass together and dinner. This year 24 students and 4 faculty from St. John Paul High School in Hyannis will be on retreat with us. Turkey is hard to ﬁnd in the tropics, so we will likely have chicken! But the sentiments will be as profound as ever, as we echo Gracias – Thanks be to God for all we have and especially for the love that surrounds us and gives us hope.