The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours. While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.
At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. And yet how often do we simply give thanks to God for who we are and what we have when things are going well in our lives?
Thankfulness is much more than saying "Thank you" because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.
What are the features and qualities of grateful people? Remembrance is the most precious feature of the virtue of gratitude. One of the most important qualities is the ability to say "thank you" to others and to take no one and nothing for granted. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God.
One incident that taught me about gratitude stands out in my life. It was June 1999 and I had just been appointed to head up World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. I had traveled to Paris, France, to meet with the Church officials who had prepared and led the very successful World Youth Day there in 1997.
After three days of intense meetings, the bishop who hosted me walked me out to a taxi. He paused for a moment on the sidewalk of that busy Paris street and said, "Thomas, there is one item that I forgot to mention -- we forgot to thank all of the staff, volunteers and those who worked so hard with us on the event. We realized it when it was too late!
"You know, we (priests) are masters of great liturgical celebrations.... The Eucharist is essentially the great act of thanksgiving. But we don't know how to say 'thank you'."
Bishop Michel Dubost reminded me that the most important thing I could do as a human being, a priest and a leader of a world operation was to thank those who would work with me. He told me to take no one and no small gesture for granted.
To acknowledge others, to say thank you, is a mark of greatness. If our colleagues and volunteers are dispirited and unmotivated, might it have something to do with the fact that we have never expressed our gratitude to them for who they are and what they do? I know that in the Church, we have a long way to go in really living out what we profess each day in the Eucharistic celebration. And I would venture to say that churches are not the only organizations that fail in expressing gratitude to others.
The courage to thank -- that is, the courage to see the gifts and experiences of this world all together as a gift -- changes not only the person who gains this insight. It also changes the environment, the world, and those who surround that person.
Gratitude is creative. People bound together by gratitude are always discovering and awakening abundant sources of strength. The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past, just as the French proverb states: "Gratitude is the heart's memory."
On this weekend when we gather together to feast and delight in families and friends, we know that God is good not by hearsay but by experience. And that makes all the difference.