Turkey. Family. Pilgrims. Shopping.
But the holiday itself doesn’t really speak much about giving thanks.
I know, there’s the whole pilgrims starving in the winter thing. But that’s almost a myth.
What is it about giving thanks that we should remember it every year in a big way?
And, how can you integrate Thanksgiving into your Catholic classroom?
I’ll give you a hint–giving thanks is actually a very Catholic thing!
St. Ignatius and the importance of giving thanks
If you know anything at all about Ignatian spirituality, you’ve heard about the Examen. It’s a form of prayer developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
In the Examen, you review the events of the day in order to understand where God was moving in your life and how you responded to him. It’s not a laundry list of sins, it’s more an exercise in spiritual sensitivity. Figuring out how aware you were of God that day.
The first step in the Examen is gratitude. You begin by reviewing the gifts you’ve received from God that day and giving him thanks for these blessings.
Why start prayer by giving thanks? Shouldn’t you start by asking for what you need?
In The Examen Prayer, Timothy Gallagher suggests this step comes from St. Ignatius’ own experience of God and his conversion.
“From the very start of his turning toward God, Ignatius experiences God as giving: giving immediately, the moment our hearts say ‘yes’ to God’s desire for relationship with us, giving abundantly, endlessly pouring out in gifts a love greater than our hearts can fathom.”
St. Ignatius once said, “We will much sooner tire of receiving his gifts than he of giving them.” For Ignatius, God is the giver of gifts! That’s the God he knew. That’s the only God he knew!
Confident that he is known and loved for who he is, and that God continually pouring out blessings, Ignatius sees a huge part of his spirituality as thanksgiving.
So, what better way to worship God than to recognize and be thankful for these gifts? Gallagher claims it is “the heart itself of the way he understands God and relates to God.”
The God of giving
God is continually pouring out blessing. That’s who God is. That what he does. We are continually swimming in blessing. You are awash in it right now!
All of creation is a result of the blessing and great gift of God’s love.
The inner life of the Blessed Trinity is a continual pouring out of life and love. That exchange of love between the Persons of the Trinity is so great, in fact, that it can’t be contained within themselves. It has to overflow.
The first manifestation of God’s overflowing love is creation. God’s love overflowed and the result was life–the universe and all of us. What are we meant to do with it? Receive it and make a return of it to him.
Recognizing God’s gifts
Do you spend your day recognizing the many gifts and blessings God is pouring out into your life?
I think most of us instead recognize the daily annoyances, burdens, difficulties, and inconveniences. These get our attention more than anything. They usually win out.
You might say, “But it seems like all I get are these bad things! God’s not giving me any blessings.”
Oh, but he is. The question is, are you spending time trying to recognize them.
Why should we be thankful?
I’ve learned a lot about God from being a father.
My youngest son can sometimes ask a lot of me. He gets these projects in his head like making his own stuffed animal out of washcloths. Of course, that involves a lot of sewing on my part (yes, I can sew…a little).
The thing is even though he’s demanding, he’s always grateful. However the project comes out, he’s thankful for it. He’s so happy when it’s done and carries it around everywhere. And, he makes sure I know how appreciative he is for the gift.
I think it’s like that with God. I think he enjoys doing huge things for us when we show him how great appreciation.
When we go out of our way to recognize his blessing in our lives and thank him, we give him worship. I think that leads God to bless us even more.
Think about it, what can we give God that he really needs. Does our adoration, prayer, love, and good works really add anything to his glory? No, there’s no way they could.
God is continually pouring out love and blessings on us. He’s always taking care of us. He even holds us in existence by his will! What does he want from us?
God wants us to receive all this from him. He wants us to take his gifts–to recognize them, be grateful for them, and to return them. He wants us to receive his love and return it to him. That’s the most we can ever do for him.
Gratitude, thanksgiving…it’s at the heart of Catholic spirituality. It’s at the heart of Catholic life.
Not just once a year–every day. All through the day.
But one day, Thanksgiving Day, is not bad either.
This post originally appeared on Marc’s blog Evangelizing Catechesis. Visit there for more on Catholic evangelization, catechesis, and spirituality.