From the Bishops Put worries aside, pause to give thanks

My dear friends,


The best advice any doctor ever gave me was simple: Listen to your body. It will tell you if you ate too much or slept too little; if you exercised too much or not enough.


In the long run, doing too much of any one thing is bad for our bodies. Just as our physical bodies require balance – just the right combination of food, exercise and rest in order to function properly – so do our minds and our spirits.


Balance is the key to a healthy life. That means we need to make time for ourselves and others, for work and for play. We also need to make time for the spiritual: God and prayer.


That is what God told the Israelites in the Book of Deuteronomy, when he instituted the feast of Booths: “For seven days you shall celebrate this pilgrim feast in honor of the Lord, your God … since the Lord, your God, has blessed you in all your crops and in all your undertakings, you shall do naught but make merry” (Dt 16:15).


For Americans, Thanksgiving is a similar reminder of the need to take time from our stress-filled lives to thank God for all the ways he has blessed us – both as a nation and as individuals.


Even though it lasts barely a day before giving way to the commercialism of “black Friday,” Thanksgiving is, for the most part, a pure holiday – a time to come together as a family over dinner. Unlike Christmas, we are not obliged to send cards or buy gifts. What matters is our presence to and with each other.


Given the grim economic news of the past few months, we may not have much to be grateful for. But we cannot allow our lives to be taken over by fear and worry over material things. If we do, we will certainly lose our balance.


That is what God was telling the Israelites: Pause and be grateful, for no matter how poor or bountiful the harvest, everything you have comes from the Lord, who gives you all that you require.

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That does not mean that you shouldn’t have concerns or that you don’t have to do something to help yourself. It does mean that those concerns should not throw you off balance. Prayers of gratitude help us do that.


As Catholics, our daily celebration of the Eucharist is a mini-feast of thanksgiving. The early Christians understood that. Despite martyrdom and persecution, they persevered in giving thanks to God “in remembrance of” Jesus, whose death and resurrection had won for them eternal life.


A spirit of gratitude also pervades Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46).


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Mary spoke those words in the midst of uncertainty. She did not know what the Lord had in store for her. But she trusted God, even when that faith put her at the foot of the cross.


Trust in God. Faith in God. Time for God. That is the spirit of Thanksgiving. It is a reminder of the spiritual balance that must exist in our lives – not just once a year, but every moment of every day.


Fittingly, the feast of Thanksgiving precedes the liturgical season of Advent, a time when the church asks us to pause and reflect on the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus into the world.


Do not lose your balance this Advent by losing sight of the spiritual this Christmas. Do not focus on the gifts but on the “Gift.”


Like Mary, live your life with a spirit of gratitude, recognizing that “the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

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