Gratitude. We are invited each year, with the celebration of Thanksgiving, to reflect on the many things we are thankful for: family, friends, faith, health, finances and the list goes on.
This is a wonderful exercise for each of us, but I came across a quote from Melody Beattie that encourages us to look at another aspect that can be realized when one is grateful. We will call it the “fruits of gratitude.”
For example, when you diet, you look for the fruits of that diet in your appearance and overall well-being. So it is with gratitude. Beattie, who is well known in addiction and recovery circles, writes: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
This quote has given me a lot on which to reflect when it comes to being grateful. Often, I think my all-too-infrequent litanies of gratitude give me a mere mental and emotional boost in the moment — a kind of feel-good reprieve. But Beattie speaks of it as transformational.
Opportunity to reflect
I recently attended St. Cloud City Council meetings that caused me to reflect on this even more. You may have heard about this since it was picked up by many news outlets. They reported that a member of the council would be proposing a resolution calling for a city moratorium on the placement of additional refugees through primary resettlement until the local resettlement agency, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, demonstrated that it is in compliance with federal statutes.
The news brought out sign-carrying proponents for and against the resolution. There were signs saying, “St. Cloud Welcomes Refugees”, “We Love our Muslim Neighbors” and even our own Catholic Ignatian Solidarity Network signs that read, “We stand with our brothers and sisters who are refugees and immigrants.” “Save our City,” “Stop Refugees Now” and other signs were also in the room.
At one point, I overheard a private exchange between two attendees on opposite sides of the issue. It chilled me to the bone and, if I am honest, I need to admit that it scared me too. We can make it more sanitary by calling this “hate speech,” but what I heard was a man’s deep hatred for a whole group of people as he called them horrible, dehumanizing names. I still can see the look on his face, his grin, as he spoke.
In the end, the resolution failed with only the author’s “yes” vote. Another council member introduced a counter-resolution “in support of a just and welcoming community.” That resolution passed on a 6-1 vote.
Reason for great joy, right? Yes, certainly, but I left with an unsettled feeling, too, knowing that the work of becoming a “just and welcoming” community, diocese and state was far from finished.
Pope Francis reiterates so often and so clearly the teachings of the church on this issue.
Last February, addressing participants at the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace in Rome, he said: “For us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself, through the newcomer: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35). The duty of solidarity is to counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable.”
Doesn’t that give us reason to be grateful? To encounter Jesus in the immigrant and the refugee, to learn about and get to know those who are so often thrown aside, and to see Jesus in all of their faces — this truly gives us reason to be grateful! Would that not be transformative?
As Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. … It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Let us broaden our gratitude this Thanksgiving to include all of our neighbors, especially those who are strangers to us, so that we can be transformed. This in turn can transform our neighborhoods, our communities and our diocese, bringing with it God’s peace!
Kathy Langer recently retired as director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.