Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Trying Time – An Ash Wednesday Reflection

In recent years, I’ve grown to appreciate Ash Wednesday much more than I ever did as a young adult.  You see, I used to think that Ash Wednesday was just a day when the super pious would walk around with dust on their foreheads to remind everyone else how super pious they are.  But once I started receiving ashes myself, and especially when I began distributing ashes as a deacon, I came to realize how wrong I was.  From my new vantage point, I see people from every walk and circumstance of life – the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the super-religious and those who may just be hedging their bets –  humbly submitting themselves to the sobering rite where we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  I see people who are trying – trying to be humble; trying to connect with God; trying to change for the better.  Lent is exactly that:  a trying time.

During Lent we’re called to conversion.  We’re called to change – to set aside our bad habits, repent, and believe the Gospel.  But truly believing the Gospel isn’t simply a matter of words; it’s a way of living.  To believe in the Gospel, we need to live the Gospel values.  That means we need to place ourselves in proper orientation with God our creator and at the service of our fellow man.  In other words, we need to love God and love our neighbor. Through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, Lent offers us a special opportunity to try a little harder to be a little better in our relationships with God and our neighbor.
 
Lent also offers us the opportunity to acknowledge that others are trying, too.  Let’s face it, It’s a lot easier to be judgmental than trying to figure out another person’s circumstances, motivations and intentions.  So we spend a good part of our day angry:  angry at the slow driver who made me late for work; angry at the store clerk who once again forgot to double-bag my groceries; angry at the guy who hogged the stepper at the gym.  It’s easy to assume that others are being the way they are just to tick us off.  But maybe, just maybe, that slow driver was bringing her newborn home from the hospital for the first time; or that store clerk has special needs; or that guy on the stepper was recently told that if he didn’t lose weight soon, he’d have serious health issues.  Maybe, they’re all just trying, too.
 
          Lent, then, is also a great time to love God and neighbor by trying to add a little more forbearance and forgiveness to our repertoire.  We can’t always know a person’s circumstances, motivations or intentions.  So maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt.  If we do, we’ll certainly be a lot less angry, and maybe we’ll grow to appreciate that we’re all living in a trying time.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

It’s the Humility

          When I was a little boy, I remember my father taking me to Henry’s Fine Foods, a family-owned deli in my hometown of Verona.  Every once in a while we’d run into a man at Henry’s who seemed to know everyone, my father included.  He was a short, stocky, self-deprecating man of obvious Italian-American descent - not an uncommon look in a town called Verona.  He always smiled, said hello and asked how we were as he bought his morning cup of coffee.  As I grew in age and wisdom, I came to realize that that little man was none other than Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.  As a young boy, I didn’t know who Yogi Berra was, but he made a lasting impression on me anyway.  What stood out to me about Yogi Berra so many years ago is the same thing that stands out about Jesus in today’s Gospel.  It’s the humility.

          At first glance, today’s readings seem to emphasize the stark contrast between divinity and humanity.  Our first reading and our psalm set the stage with magnificent images of the awesome power of God, while Saint Paul, in our second reading, reminds us of the simple, devout life that God calls us to.  In our Gospel, John the Baptist contrasts his own lowliness with one who’s coming who’s mightier than he.  And then something strange happens.  In Jesus, God’s power and might doesn’t stand in contrast with human lowliness.  When the mighty one comes, he humbly presents himself to John for baptism.  In Jesus, God’s power and might is expressed perfectly through humility. 

          Much ink has been spilled over the centuries trying to figure out why Jesus would need to be baptized.  He’s the Messiah, the sinless Son of God.   But rather than talk about why Jesus is seeking baptism, I’d like to focus on what Jesus is doing.  “For Jesus, the emergence of John was God’s call to action; and his first step was to identify himself with the people in their search for God.”[1]  In other words, in launching his earthly ministry, Jesus’ first step wasn’t to announce his divinity, but to declare his humanity.  As Saint Paul said, Jesus “emptied himself . . . coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance, he humbled himself.” (Philippians 2: 7-8)  Jesus is a model of humility, and as the Yogi-ism goes, “You can observe a lot by watching.”[2]  By presenting himself for baptism, Jesus humbly acknowledges that he “could not have done what he did apart from God’s empowerment and blessing.”[3]  By presenting himself for baptism, Jesus teaches us that our mission in life, the mission we assume in baptism, begins with humility.

Baptism, then, can be understood as God’s gift to the humble.  As Saint Gregory of Nazianzus explained, “Baptism is God’s beautiful and magnificent gift. . . .  It’s called a gift because it’s conferred on those who bring nothing of their own.”[4]  And what does baptism do for us?  It makes us nothing less than sons and daughters of God.  We bring nothing to the baptismal font that God needs, and yet we leave it as God’s beloved sons and daughters empowered with all the grace we need to carry out our baptismal mission as priest, prophet and king.  If that’s not humbling, I don’t know what is.

The call to live our baptismal mission with humility may not seem so easy in a world that exalts the high, the mighty, the wealthy and the beautiful.  I’ll admit that humility’s not my strongest virtue.  I seem to live more by the words of Ted Turner:  “If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect.”[5]  It seems that we “possess[] two very different kinds of life:  [our] real life and the imaginary one in which [we] live[] in [our] own mind or in the opinion of others.  We labor unceasingly to embellish and preserve our imaginary existence, and we neglect the real one.”[6]   But real success isn’t measured in terms of status, wealth, or even beauty.  As a certain successful baseball player once said, “I’m ugly.  So what?  I never saw anyone hit with his face.”[7]  Real success in life is all about being authentically human, living simply and humbly as the real person that God created us to be.  Jesus calls us to be humble because “It is human to be humble.”[8]

It’s no coincidence that the words “human” and “humility” are derived from the same Latin root.  Humus, meaning dirt, reminds us that God formed man “out of the dust of the ground.”  (Genesis 2:7)  To be humble, then, we must heed the ominous words that we hear every year on Ash Wednesday:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Humility reminds us that we’re not God; we’re lowly creatures.  Humility reminds us that God doesn’t need us, but he loves us anyway.  Jesus calls us to be humble because humility “creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God.”[9]  The more we humbly empty ourselves of ego and pride, the closer we become with the one who humbled himself to share in our humanity, and the more we’re filled with his love and divinity.  Just think of the humblest people you know.  I’ll bet God’s love shines right through them, doesn’t it?  That’s what we see in Jesus, and that’s what I saw so many years ago in Yogi Berra.

Much later in my life, I asked my father how he knew Yogi Berra.  He smiled and said, “I didn’t.”  It seems that Yogi Berra was a humble man who treated everyone like a friend he’d known all his life.  The testimonials that followed his death last September attest to the fact that what friends and family remember most about Yogi Berra isn’t his illustrious baseball career, but his desire to remain one of us.  Yogi Berra never forgot the secret to real success in life.  To borrow his words, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”[10]

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Psalm 104; Titus 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7; Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22




[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 45.
[2] Yogi Berra.
[3]R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995) at 92.
[4] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 40, 3-4: PG 36, 361C.
[5] Fizra Pirani, “Happy 77th Birthday, Ted Turner:  13 Things You May Not Know about the Media Mogul,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 19, 2015, http://www.myajc.com/news/entertainment/celebrity-news/happy-76th-birthday-ted-turner/npQtn/.
[6] Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ:  The Spiritual Message of the Letter to the Romans (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1990) at 165.
[7] Yogi Berra.
[8] Cantalamessa.
[9] Monica Baldwin, I Leap Over the Wall:  A Return to the World after Twenty-eight Years in a Convent.
[10] Yogi Berra.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Come, Let’s Adore Him! - A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

As I was setting up our Nativity Scene last week, I couldn’t help but notice how everyone and everything in our household is drawn to the manger.  My family loves to help set it up, each of us with our favorite pieces, and for some strange reason, our cats LOVE the Nativity Scene.  Every morning without fail, I find the telltale signs that our cats had spent the night in and around the manger – pieces knocked over, straw tracked across the rug and cat hair on Mary’s dress.  Why should she be any different from the rest of us?  It seems that both man and beast are called by God to come and adore him, and that’s the message of today’s readings.

In our first reading, a faithful woman named Hannah returns to the Temple after the birth Samuel to praise and thank God for the gift of a son in her barrenness.  Our psalm speaks so beautifully of how our soul “yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord” and how our “heart and flesh cry out for the living God.”  And in our Gospel, we find the Holy Family on a Passover pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus lingers a while longer in his Father’s house.  Together, these readings teach us what we already know in our hearts:  there’s something in our very being that draws us to God. 

Philosophy and Theology agree that “man is a relational being.”[1]  As Aristotle put it so succinctly, “man is by nature a social animal.”[2]  This fact is played out in our family relationships, in our friendships, in our cultural and political structures and in our associations through organizations and corporations.  Why are we social beings?  Well, we’re created that way.  Our social nature comes from our creation in the image and likeness of God, who is himself in relationship in the divine Trinity.  So “[t]he desire for God is written in the human heart.”[3]  We’re created to be in relationship with God.  As Saint John reminds us in our second reading, we’re all children of a God who created us to share in his divine life.  For this reason God draws close to man at every time and in every place.  He calls us to seek him, to know him, [and] to love him with all our strength.[4] 

Our relationship with God is our first and most fundamental relationship.  If our relationship with God is disturbed, “then nothing else can be truly in order.”[5]  So our relationship with God has to be nurtured.  It needs care and feeding because we need care and feeding.  And where can we get that care and feeding?  In prayer and liturgy.  Prayer, of course, “is the elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of his glory.”[6]  Through prayer we enter into dialogue with God, we share our inner most thoughts and concerns, and we listen for God’s response.  Liturgy is the work of the people where we join together in fellowship as Christ our High Priest continues the work of our redemption through the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.  In liturgy we’re nourished by God in his Word and in the Eucharist.  In prayer and liturgy, we respond to God’s call to come and adore him.  Through prayer and liturgy we receive all that we need to live in wonderful relationship with God and with each other.

Unfortunately, we don’t always take the time to pray and to go to Mass.  We’re too distracted and too busy.  This problem has become so severe that today only about 30% of people regularly attend religious services.  In my opinion, that sobering statistic explains many of the problems we face today because when our relationship with God is neglected, then everything else in our lives becomes disordered.  When our relationship with God is set aside like the latest toy in which we’ve lost interest, we become spiritually anemic, we become slaves to a routine of drudgery, and we give little thought or care to the true meaning of life and our purpose in it.  Worse yet, we lose hope.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re raising a generation of children who’ve never set foot in a Church.  The sad fact is that a day will come when those poor children will face the challenges of this life without their parents to shelter them, and they’ll think that they’re all alone.  Without a relationship with God, they’ll stand hopeless in the face of sickness and death, and they’ll never find the truth and happiness they yearn for because they were never taught that truth and happiness can only be found in God.

Fortunately, there’s good news because with God there’s always good news.  The good news is that God never stops calling us.  God never stops trying to be in relationship with us.  You may have noticed that the Church was a little more crowded than usual on Christmas.  Well, before we condemn the infrequent fliers who fill the pews just a few times a year, let’s congratulate them for listening to God’s call and welcome them home to God’s house.  I love a packed Church, even if it happens only once or twice a year, because it’s proof that God never stops calling us to come and adore him.  And when we do come, we advance in the wisdom and understanding that we’re never alone.  God is with us, and that, of course, is the message of Christmas.

        As I was setting up for the children’s Mass on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t help but notice how everyone is drawn to the manger.  Parents were dragged by their children to the sanctuary to look at their favorite pieces, families gathered before the crèche in their Sunday best to take next-year’s Christmas card photo, and there were the telltale signs that little ones had spent some time in and around the manger – pieces knocked over, straw tracked across the rug, and cat hair from someone’s clothes on Mary’s dress.  She just can’t get a break.  It seems that both man and beast respond to God’s call to come and adore him.  At one point, I saw a small boy kneeling on the sanctuary steps before the manger.  As I approached, I heard him saying, “I love you, Baby Jesus.  I love you, Baby Jesus.”  Prayer and liturgy – it’s as simple as that.  Come, let’s adore him.

Readings:  1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3: 1-2, 21-24; Luke 2: 41-52

Click here for a moving rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful sung at Midnight Mass at the Vatican



[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York, Image, 2013) at 44.
[2] Aristotle, Politics, Book 1.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church at 27.
[4] Id. at 1.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI at 33.
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church at glossary.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Man of the People

                My first challenge on arriving for the 4 pm Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve was to figure out if we had an altar server who could handle the incense (we did).  My second challenge was learning that my pastor wanted me to proclaim the “long form” of the designated Gospel at Mass.  My third challenge was learning that our visiting priest wanted to use the same Gospel on Christmas morning.  This passage from Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ starting with Abraham and ending with Jesus’ birth.  It’s informally known as Matthews Begats because its more classic iteration goes like this:  “Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob.  Jacob begat Judah and his brothers.”  (Matthew 1: 2)  Thirty-nine generations later, we hear of Jesus’ birth.  This reading isn’t challenging solely for its length; the most difficult part is slogging through 48 Hebrew names without falling into a guttural, saliva-laden tongue twister.  You try reading names like Jeconiah, Shealtiel and Zerrubabbel in front of nearly 800 parishioners whose most likely thought is, “When is this going to end?”  I’ve been tempted to throw Huey, Dewey and Louie into the mix just to see if people are still listening.

                Bible scholars largely agree that Matthew’s Gospel was written to prove to a Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah promised for centuries by the prophets of old.  In that light, Matthew’s Begats establishes Jesus’ Jewish lineage from Abraham, their father in faith, to the tribe of Judah and down through the descendants of King David, just as the prophets foretold.  But we also believe that Scripture speaks to all people in all times.  In that light, Matthew’s Begats takes on a much more universal meaning.  It teaches us that Jesus had a rich, human history filled with peasants and kings, saints and sinners and a whole lot of folks in between.  In short, it tells us that Jesus truly is a man of the people.  And that says a lot about God.

                 We humans have been pondering God for as long as we’ve been pondering.  Is there one God, or many gods?  What is God like?  Is God a passive or active player in our lives?  Matthew’s Begats addresses this last question.  You see, Judeo-Christian tradition speaks of a God who not only created the universe but who has lovingly and persistently guided creation back to him, notwithstanding humanity’s sinful fall from grace.  A God who humbled himself to take human form, to join the human family tree, certainly is intimately active in our lives. 

By contrast, a deist believes that God created the universe but remains apart from it, allowing creation to plod through time without God’s intervention.  The typical analogy for the deist understanding of God is that of a clock-maker who makes the clock, sets it in motion and lets it run by itself.  One of the many flaws in the deist perspective is that it fails to account for love.  This point will take a little explaining, so bear with me.  If one understands God as the supreme creator above all else, then one must concede that God needs nothing (if God needed anything, he wouldn’t be above all else).  So if God needs nothing, then his only motivation for creating us and everything else must be love (the only other possible motivation would be a need in one form or another).  God creates not because he needs to, but because he loves.  And a God who is supreme also can’t change (the only possible change from being supreme would be to become something less than supreme).  Therefore, if God creates out of love, he can’t stop loving his creation (that would be a change).  Since love is active, not static, God’s love for his creation is itself an active intervention in our lives that can’t stop because stopping would be change, and God can’t change.  Thus, the deist approach fails because if God were not active in our lives (as the deist believes), then God would not love creation; if God did not love creation, then God would not be supreme; and if God were not supreme, then God would not be God.  I’ll pause a moment in case you need a breather after all of that.
 
                As challenging as the passage may be, Matthew’s Begat’s speaks so beautifully and profoundly of God’s active and loving intervention in our lives.  It teaches us that God loves us so much that he humbled himself to take human form, to share earthly life with us, to live with us, work with us, play with us, laugh with us, cry with us, suffer with us, rejoice with us and ultimately to die with and for us.  Matthew’s Begats teaches us that God’s divinity and our humanity are united in Jesus Christ, notwithstanding a family tree with a few nicks and scars on its trunk and branches.  Matthew’s Begats teaches us that God, through Jesus Christ, truly is a man the people.  That’s the message of Christmas, and that’s the message that brings joy to the world.

Reading:  Matthew 1: 1-25

Follow this link for a clever rendition of Matthew's Begats.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Extraordinary People

                A little more than thirty-five years ago, my father celebrated his fiftieth birthday.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I particularly remember thinking, “Wow, I have an old father.”  From a fourteen year old’s addle-brained perspective, fifty sure seemed old.  Fast forward those thirty-five years and imagine what I thought when my youngest (though not young) sister greeted me this morning with:  “Nifty, nifty, Mikey’s fifty!”  In case you haven’t guessed what I thought, allow me (in a feudal attempt to seem young and relevant) to rap it for you:  “Holy sh**ty, I turned fitty!” 

Fortunately, aging has never bothered me, and this year doesn’t seem any worse than the previous forty-nine.  As I tell my friends, I never played sports, so nothing hurts.  I do tend to be reflective around my birthday though (go figure), and I admit to being somewhat more so as I tuck a half-century over my belly and under my belt.  So over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a good deal of time asking myself what everyone else is asking me:  “How does it feel to be fifty?”  I never came up with an answer until early this morning as I awoke to the realization that the Big 5-0 had finally arrived.  How does it feel to be fifty?  It feels EXTRAORDINARY!

The object of my contemplation then turned to why fifty feels extraordinary.  Extraordinary isn’t a word that I use lightly, and I certainly don’t consider myself extraordinary.  If I had to pick one word to describe myself, it would be “boring.”  That said, I do know a lot of extraordinary people.  I know extraordinary people who have suffered unspeakable tragedies and still manage to bring a smile to anyone who needs one.  I know extraordinary people who never let illness or injury stop them from doing what they want to do.  I know extraordinary people who never stopped searching for their happiness until they found it.  I know extraordinary people who love the extraordinarily unlovable.  I know extraordinary people who faced death with extraordinary courage and grace.  I know extraordinary people with extraordinary minds and extraordinary people with extraordinary hearts.  So why does something as ordinary as turning fifty feel extraordinary?  I couldn’t figure it out.

          As the day wore on, my mind turned to other thoughts.  You see, I had figured out that my extraordinary wife had planned a surprise party for me, so I spent the day having a lot of fun wondering who would be there.  As I traveled down memory lane thinking of all of the friends and family who grace my life, it suddenly dawned on me.  Consciously or subconsciously, by fate or by design, I’ve surrounded myself with extraordinary people.  People who have supported me, comforted me, encouraged me and loved me – extraordinary people who can even make turning fifty EXTRAORDINARY!  Thank you to all of the extraordinary people who have given me such an extraordinary life.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God Isn’t Fixing This?

                God Isn’t Fixing This.  So says a full-page headline in the New York Daily News criticizing politicians who offered the “meaningless platitudes” of prayer for the victims of the San Bernardino shooting.  I beg to differ. 

                Let’s start with the headline.  In the face of repeated terror attacks and senseless violence, I completely understand why people might lose faith and trust in God.  Hey, Jesus himself had his doubts:  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  (Matthew 27: 46)  Yet, it’s especially in the face of our most difficult challenges that faith and trust in God bear the most fruit.  You see, believing in God requires an eternal outlook.  God’s providence (his plan for his creation) isn’t limited to the temporal world; it’s eternal.  So God’s promises have to be understood and believed in an eternal context.  That means that we can’t expect that all of the world’s problems will be fixed right now, but we can expect that they are fixed eternally. 

                So what good does an eternal outlook do for us now?  How does faith and trust in God bear fruit now?  Well, they give us hope.  Hope, Google tells us, is a “feeling and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  The wonderful thing about hope is that it’s not simply a desire for a particular outcome; it’s also the expectation that it will actually happen.  Hope is an optimistic wish for future happiness that’s grounded in our steadfast belief that our wish will come true.  That’s why hope carries us through tough times and gives us the strength to persevere until we achieve our desired goal.  Without hope for peace, justice, security and a better world, they will never be achieved, and life would be pointless.  But through his promise of eternal happiness, God gives us the gift of hope that inspires us to seek and work for eternal happiness right now.  Hope inspires us to prayer for a better world and to listen for God’s answer to our prayers, which brings me to the Daily News’ reference to prayer as “meaningless platitudes.”

                  As I said in a recent post, "Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God, an act of spiritual communion by which we unite ourselves, our concerns and needs with God and with each other.  Through prayer we step into the transcendent, spiritual world to fill ourselves with God’s eternal love and share it with others."  In prayer, we unite ourselves with God’s perfect, eternal peace, justice and love so that we can have perfect peace, justice and love here on earth as it is in heaven.  Meaningless?  Hardly.  Every act of prayer is an act of love, so with every prayer we bring a share of God’s eternal love into the world.  And love always triumphs over evil.

                Of course, for our prayers to be fruitful, we need to listen for God’s answer to our prayers and act upon it.  To be fair, I suspect that the Daily News reference to prayer as meaningless platitudes is based upon a belief that while certain politicians say that they are praying, they’re not acting upon God’s answer to their prayers.  If such is the case, the Daily News has a point.  Prayer that’s not open to God’s answer and inspiration, whatever they may be, isn’t prayer.  It is meaningless.  So as we pray for the victims of these horrible attacks, we also need to listen for God’s answer to our prayers and act upon it.  God’s inspiration will always lead us to happiness, peace, justice and love now and eternally.  When we pray, and listen, and act upon God’s inspiration, we'll soon find that God is fixing this – through us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exercising Gratitude

Thanksgiving may well-be the healthiest holiday we celebrate.  Those of you whose minds went straight to the artery-clogging double portions of deep-fried turkey, sausage stuffing, marshmallow sweet potatoes and pecan pie may think I’m crazy.  Well, I’m clearly not talking about the food; I’m talking about the exercise.  Now those of you who are plopped on the couch with a drumstick in each hand may think I’m crazy.  Well, I’m not talking about the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K kind of exercise either.  I’m talking about spiritual exercise.  On Thanksgiving, we dedicate a whole day to exercising gratitude, which is one of the healthiest spiritual exercises we can do. 

Gratitude is an emotional and spiritual muscle that grows and strengthens with regular use.  Studies show that gratitude is directly linked to happiness and well-being.  You see, each person’s basic level of happiness rests at a natural set point.  When something bad happens, our happiness level can drop.  When something good happens, it can go up, but ultimately, our happiness level always returns to its natural set point.  That’s where gratitude comes in:  Practicing gratitude can raise our natural happiness set point as much as 25%, which allows us to remain at a higher level of overall happiness regardless of outside circumstances.[1]

A 25% increase in overall happiness?  That’s a pretty good return on investment for any exercise, especially since exercising gratitude is so easy.  It’s easy because there’s always something to be grateful for.  Of course, we all experience times when we aren’t feeling very grateful.  But when we focus on something we’re grateful for in the midst of our most difficult times, our “gratitude shines a light on the darkness, the struggle, the difficulty and in the pockets of brightness, we notice the grace that seemed before to be hidden from view.”[2]  That ever-present grace lifts us from the depths of our troubles by allowing us to relive - to enjoy and linger on - the kind word, the companionship, the help, or the gift that we’re grateful for.  In the end, exercising gratitude, like any exercise, is our choice.  As you make that choice, think of the “glass half-full” and “glass half-empty” people in your life, and ask yourself, “Who’s happier?”  Personally, I aspire to Alphonse Karr’s worldview:   “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”[3]

                While exercising gratitude is easy, it does take practice to attain its full benefits.  So here are a few simple ways to exercise gratitude:

1.       Identify your obstacles to gratitude – perhaps envy, greed, pride, narcissism, entitlement, fear, inattention, or ego - and deal with them;
2.       Keep a gratitude journal – Each day write down one or two things that you’re grateful for and look back at past entries every once in a while;
3.       Learn a gratitude prayer – I like the last stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, We Thank Thee:  “For this new morning with its light, Father we thank Thee.  For rest and shelter of the night, Father we thank thee.  For health and food, for love and friends, for everything Thy goodness sends, Father in heaven, we thank Thee.”
4.       Write a thank you letter - You know how good it feels to get one.  It feels even better to send one;
5.       Hang out with people who are grateful – Gratitude, like misery, is infectious.  It’s your choice;
6.       Hang out with people who are less fortunate than you – ‘Nuff said. 

Pick one or two, and give it a try for a few weeks.  I guarantee that if you exercise gratitude every day, in a month’s time, you’ll be a happier, healthier person.  And there’s no better day to start than today – Thanksgiving Day – the day we dedicate to exercising gratitude.



[1] Robert Emmons, Thanks!:  How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
[2] M. Renee Miller, A Guide to Spiritual Practice: Gratitude Practice.
[3] Alphonse Karr, A Tour of my Garden.