Each year as Thanksgiving arrives, I try to think of the countless blessings for which I should be grateful. Of course, because they are countless, it is impossible to do more than remember some blessings that stand out in my memory. On the list, I know that family and friends would be near the top. I can be grateful to family and friends for what has been special in my life. Perhaps every blessing I have received from God has reached me through family and friends.
Just before sitting down to write this column. I looked at a photo of my father, mother and sister that I have on my wall. I probably look at it more than any of the other many photos I have on my walls. When I was a young man still in grammar school, whenever people visited our home thay would say something like “Bobby looks exactly like his father:. When they would leave, I would walk into the bathroom and look in the mirror to see why everyone claimed I looked like my dad. I saw no resemblance at all.
Now in the morning when I look into the mirror as I wash and shave, I see my father staring back at me. I not only physically resemble my dad. I have inherited many of his personality traits. I think I have inherited my mother’s sense of humor and other traits of her personality. My sister was six and a half years older than I. we were very close. Her death at the age of thirty-five was the most painful experience of my life. Even recalling it now, I can still experience something of the pain. I hope I never experience anything like it again.
Besides the blessing of my family I have come to appreciate my friends more and more. Several years ago someone asked me about the important influences in my life as a priest. Without any hesitation, I responded: “I have wonderful friends.” My answer was completely spontaneous. The more I reflected on my life as a priest, the more I came to see the enormously important blessing that friends have been in my life.
What I have noticed in recent years about my own relationship with God is that gratitude has assumed a central role. In relation to us God is all ”yes” and in relation to God we should be deeply grateful. Every blessing that God has sent us, from creating us to redeeming us has been a free loving act by God.
Out of billions and billions of possible human beings, God freely chose to create Robert Lauder. Every person can make a similar statement. Any negative views of God, any frightening images that we might have inheritred from teachers or books, should be abandoned. God is all love.
Of course it is easier ti think of God as all ”yes’ when everything in our lives is going smoothly and not so easy when when we are confronted by serious problems in our lives. Yet it seems that the presence of problems provides a special opportunity to appreciate the beauty and depth of Christian revelation.
God’s message speaks to the deepest level of our personalities. There is nothing trivial about Christian revelation. It can speak to us profoundly. To accept it and try to live by it can change our entire lives.
Recently I was reading a section of Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first recipients of the Good News. Try to imagine that you heard Paul explaining that the God who has created the entire world has chosen out of love to become human and to identify totally with his creatures. In Hebrews (4: 4-16) Paul writes the following:
“Brothers and sisters: Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
The more serious the problems we experience in our lives, the more important and beautiful Christian revelation appears. Perhaps some conversations we have with acquaintances are trivial. Some dialogue can be superficial. Not our conversation with God. That should never be trivial. God’s speech is always important because it comes from Infinite Love. This Thanksgiving our gratitude, our ”Thank you” should be serious and come from our hearts. If we can listen to God’s “yes” and respond honestly out of love, then this could be a special Thanksgiving.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.