The Power of Gratitude
by Mother John Mary, C.P.
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Constitution challenges us to evaluate our charism and how we are living it. I want to speak of one aspect of our charism – our first vow of Promoting Devotion to and a Grateful Remembrance of the Passion of Jesus. In particular I want to speak of the theme, the virtue of Gratitude and how we can keep a “grateful remembrance” in our thoughts and actions.
Of course, we reflect on this, we breathe this, we dwell in this mystery during our daily life with Jesus, especially during prayer and those profound moments of recollection throughout the day. We often say with St. Paul of the Cross “I thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for my sins.” We thank him that he is the faithful Bridegroom – as we have heard Bishop Jan Liesen so eloquently describe during his bible study on the Voice of the Bridegroom throughout Scripture. I want to encourage us to have a positive attitude about the upcoming Visitation – to thank God for what he is doing and will do through this situation.
“To promote devotion to and GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE of the Passion of Jesus.” How are we living this vow daily? This spirit of gratitude and praise, in the midst of challenges of daily life. I want each of us to ask ourselves…How grateful am I really for the cross in my life? Do I really believe that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his plan.” As we heard earlier this week in the Mass readings.
Jesus tells us we are to “leap for joy” when we are hungry, hated, misunderstood, rejected, reproached, persecuted…now, I don’t know about you, but I am not experiencing being hated, persecuted, rejected on a daily basis…these are pretty big trials. My trials are much smaller. But I ask myself, am I rejoicing in them? Am I grateful to God? Do I live an “attitude of gratitude” in response to my gratefulness to my Bridegroom who has given his life for me, his bride?
He who is so faithful and I am unfaithful. And to turn that around…do I imitate my Bridegroom in daily communal life? Here is where our Vow should run deep. Am I faithful to my Sisters, even when I may feel slighted by them, ignored or perturbed…all the disturbances which come from living so closely together day and day out. Am I like the faithful Bridegroom in my relationships or like the faithless bride…tossed about by my feelings and reactions. Yes, sometimes we are going to feel strong negative emotions. But do I seek to be grateful in those very moments? To have an “attitude of gratitude”? Psalm 30 says “Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing.” Yes, sometimes we feel like mourning, nursing our wounds, indulging our self-pity; and I admit I am the first to be tempted in this area. But, with God’s grace, we can choose to dance instead.
Do I rejoice and thank God when I feel slighted? Misunderstood? When a sister contradicts me or doesn’t share my opinion? When someone is impatient with me or butts in when I am talking and takes over the conversation? (of course, these things NEVER happen in our community!)
Scripture uses a variety of words to describe how we should react in difficult situations: Rejoice, Jump for Joy, Dance, Cry aloud, be glad, Sing, Laugh, Shout, Worship, Adore, Give Thanks...
How deep does my gratitude really run? Am I really living out of the truth of what Jesus told St. Paul the Apostle and namesake of our Founder: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly (most gratefully), therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Last time we were together I spoke of Spiritual Warfare. Gratitude, especially a grateful remembrance of the Paschal mystery of Jesus is a powerful way of waging spiritual warfare. Satan hates it when we are humble, when we are faithful, when we repent of giving in to those sudden impulses of impatience or self-pity. He hates it when we are in trial and we turn to give praise and thanks to God. Let’s discover anew the power in thanksgiving, the power of praise, the power of Joy. Remembering that holy prophet Nehemiah who said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” The enemies arrows cannot penetrate the joy of someone who is praising and thanking the Lord.
Let’s be determined as a community to accept with spiritual joy whatever the Lord sends us, bad or good. Joy runs deep, it is not always a feeling, but it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit…a fruit of fidelity to Jesus and gratitude to him for all He has done for us. This seems like an oxymoron – how can joy NOT be a feeling??? We can look at St. Mother Teresa and see the answer; we can look at St. Paul of the Cross and see the answer. They experienced many trials, the dark night of trial for many years, yet they praised God and thanked him in the midst of affliction and they exuded the joy of the Lord. They had the joy that empowers a person to love God and neighbor AND that defeats Satan.
Often the prayer of Gratitude and praise can be done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower; yet when we persist in it, somehow the power of god is released into us and into the situation, first in a trickle perhaps but later in a growing stream that finally floods us and washes away the old hurts and scars in us and in our community.
We are all familiar with the story in 2 Chronicles that tells of a whole army that was defeated when the Israelites praised the Lord and believed Him when He said that the battle belonged to the Lord. So Today! The battle isn’t ours, it is God’s. While we praise Him, He sends our enemies scurrying.
It takes faith and humility to have this spiritual attitude. Let’s pray for humility and a deep faith that thanks God in all things.
St. Paul gives us our marching orders in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; give thanks in everything; such is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is the will of God for us…every day as Passionists…to rejoice, to pray and to give thanks in everything.