The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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November 23, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Faith leads us to thankfulness

For most of us, the good times outnumber the hard times in our lives

By Bishop Robert Banks

Almost 40 years have passed since the first Thanksgiving dinner after my mother died. It came just a few weeks after her death, so there was no great enthusiasm about having the dinner, but family tradition demanded it. I do not remember that there were any tears, just a very empty feeling as we all tried to make believe it was like the Thanksgiving dinners before.

There will be some 5,000 Thanksgiving dinners like that around New York and Washington, D.C., this year as families who lost a loved one on Sept. 11 sit down to tables that will never be the same.

I think that will be on the minds of many of us as we gather around our own Thanksgiving tables, so this will be a different Thanksgiving for our country. There will be a sad sympathy for those who lost loved ones, but perhaps a deeper giving of thanks for the loved ones at our own Thanksgiving tables.

More thankful

It does seem to be a fact that we humans are more appreciative, more thankful of the good things in our lives when we lose them or see others lose the same good things in their lives. The Pilgrims did not come up with the idea of Thanksgiving back in England, religious as they were. It took the uncertainties of life in a new land to help them see that food really is a gift from God.

A basic task of almost any religion, and certainly our own, is to help people become more thankful, more appreciative of the fact that everything good in life is a gift from God. For us Catholics, our prayer life should be more one of thanks than of petition. Generally, a growth in thankfulness parallels a deepening of our faith in God. The two go together. And the more we see the good things in life as gifts from God, the more we appreciate that God loves us.

God also uses the challenges of life as gifts for which we can be thankful. The struggles to provide ourselves with food, shelter, and safety throughout the ages have led to families and friends helping one another and to discoveries that have revolutionized our lives.

It is harder to see, but God can also bring good out of the sad and difficult times in our lives. I am in no way suggesting that a pregnant mother of four young children should be thankful that the husband she and her children loved was lost in the tragedy of Sept. 11. That death was the result of evil freely done by terribly misguided men.

Eventually, all will be well

It can be a comfort for those who suffer to know that there is a future ahead where death will be overcome and all will be well, but that does not make us thankful for the evil and the terrible hurt it causes.

God has shown in the most powerful way that evil will not triumph. The night before Jesus died, he gathered his friends at table, took bread, and gave thanks to his Father. He knew what lay ahead in the next 24 hours, but he also trusted in his Father's love. In accord with his Father's will, he offered himself for us, confident that all would be well. We know the rest of the story.

Because we know the story, we regularly gather around the Thanksgiving table, the altar of the Mass. It is a table that reminds us that terrible evil can happen to one whom God loves; it happened on Calvary. It is also a table that says by its existence today that God's love won then and will always win in God's time. Our response is a confident faith in God's love for us. And that confident faith just naturally leads to great thankfulness for God's ever-abiding love.

Fortunately, for most of us the good times outnumber the hard times in our lives. That means we have to work at being thankful, at reminding ourselves of how many gifts we have received from God. Otherwise, we just take them for granted most of the time.

One of the important gifts in my life occurred over 50 years ago when I was a seminarian in Rome. For some reason, I had gone to chapel to make a holy hour by myself. As I knelt down, I was wondering how I would get through the hour. After a few minutes it struck me, almost out of the blue, that I should try to list for myself all the things for which I should be grateful. I did not think it would take long, so I was surprised to see the hour coming to an end while I was still finding new things for which to be thankful.

Every once in a great while, I try the same exercise in order to keep me mindful of all the new gifts God sends along. It's a good exercise for anyone. It helps us to be thankful, and that is at the heart of a Christian spiritual life.

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