Friday, November 22, 2019 - Updated: 1:02 pm
One of my favorite spots — any day, every day — is the chapel at St. Paul Seminary.
When I moved back into the seminary upon my return from Green Bay more than 12 years ago, I was delighted to “pitch a tent” in the chapel. Since that day, my comfort zone, my prayer corner, has been the last pew on Mary’s side of the chapel. I look forward to going there for morning Holy Hour with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and for Night Prayer with a daily Examen.
Night Prayer is part of the Liturgy of the Hours (formerly called the Breviary), a daily cycle of prayers that all the ordained have the happy obligation to offer for the needs of the entire world. When I was first learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, just after I entered the seminary in 1967, a wise teacher there gave this advice: “Let nary a day go by without telling God, ‘Thanks.’”
Night Prayer begins with what is known as the Examen. During the Examen, those praying Night Prayer have the chance to examine their day in order to do two things: to reflect on the blessings of the day and give God thanks; and to reflect on the failings of the day and ask God’s forgiveness.
It is upon the first of these daily practices — to give thanks — that I invite you to make your own reflection.
Throughout this month of November, the website of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been running a “30 Days of Gratitude” campaign, urging people to reflect on and write about anything for which they are thankful. As the campaign points out, this is not only good spiritual advice. An attitude of gratitude is also good for our mental and physical health and for our relationships with family and friends. When we count our blessings, we are blessed by doing so.
In just a matter of days, we will be celebrating our national holiday of Thanksgiving with the traditional trimmings: turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and yams, pumpkin pie with whipped cream. But the “stuff” of that day begs our remembrance of the origins of the holiday and its oft-forgotten significance for today.
In the midst of harsh weather and seemingly unbearable odds, the pilgrims recognized that they had many more blessings than problems. They gathered to do one major thing — to give thanks to God, from whom all blessings flow.
The same is true for us. While our hardships are different from those of our pilgrim ancestors, when you and I have the opportunity to do so, we too can recognize that we have many more blessings than problems. We have so many blessings for which we can be grateful, first and foremost to God, who is the giver of all good gifts.
Our online diocesan campaign, “30 Days of Gratitude,” is an apt opportunity to remember how much God blesses us each day. That reality sometimes escapes us.
Each night when I do my own Examen, my thanksgiving to God for the blessings of that day, you are among the blessings for which I thank him. You, with your prayers, your support, with your inspiration, are a blessing to me, along with multiple other ways that God blesses my life.
While it is good for you and me to recount the ways that we are blessed and give thanks to God, that can’t be the end of the story. Knowing that we have been blessed by God must move us to be a blessing to and for others.
As we continue to learn more and more about Jesus, especially by reflecting upon and praying through the Gospels in the New Testament, we see that, as God’s Son, he always offered thanks and praise to his Father, no matter how easy or difficult his day.
The most powerful prayers of thanks that Jesus offered to his Father were the multiple and marvelous ways in which he blessed others. He blessed them in forgiving them their sins, in healing them of their infirmities, in teaching them his good news, in making them feel and know how important they were — to him and to others.
Be a blessing
As we get ready for Thanksgiving Day 2019, perhaps we can all resolve to make sure that thankfulness is more than something we do on that holiday each year. Maybe the lesson I learned so many years ago from a wise teacher can become a good practice for you, too: “Let nary a day go by without telling God ‘Thanks.’”
Combining that lesson with trying to become more like Jesus puts us on the path to becoming a blessing to a number of “somebodies” each day. All of this can ensure that Thanksgiving Day isn’t just the fourth Thursday of November, but on each and every day that we open our eyes.
That’s a possibility that can become real by embracing the sage advice: “Let nary a day go by without saying thanks to God,” a thanks spoken from our hearts and expressed in our deeds.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day — 365 times a year.