Rejoice always

As temperatures begin to drop, we begin to ready ourselves for the long winter ahead. We watch as nature scrambles to gather food to hoard for winter, and as birds begin their migration to warmer climes. Every living thing senses the change in season and the need to be ready for what might lay ahead. God has given all His creation the ability to adapt, to be at the ready, and to know that even through the darkest of winter days, there is always the promise of spring.

Recently in a group setting we were asked to discuss what fills us with gratitude. As the group began its discussion, those items that most of us would expect to hear were shared: faith, family, friends, homes, food, etc. As we progressed through this process we found that once the basic things were addressed, we had to truly think about the question. After a while we were asked to quietly journal about what we felt grateful for in our own lives. 

There are so many clichés about gratitude, so much so, that we could fill page after page with them; but all that aside, when we face our day-to-day with heartfelt gratitude, we truly can overcome. It is this awareness of what brings joy into our lives that counters the darkness. This is our hoarding of what sustains us for those long dark days that sometimes come into our lives unbidden. In the words of John Milton: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

When we choose to live with grateful hearts, we learn to make every day a prayer. We begin to truly recognize the many blessings in our lives even when none seem to be present. Our outlook becomes less jaded and the beauty that lies within becomes visible. Alphonse Karr says it most eloquently: “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” Life gives us so much joy, and often much sorrow and pain, but it is what we decide to do with it that defines who we become. 

Life’s lessons are many and it can be a hard and demanding teacher, but faith, hope and love are what we harvest when it is planted with gratefulness. We are reminded in James 1:1-4, 17: “Brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” For, “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” 

It is in our conscious decision to live a life of thankfulness that we are given the strength to persevere even in the bitter cold and darkness of life’s winters. Recognizing the gifts in every aspect of our lives is akin to knowing that the sun is shining behind each and every dark cloud. 

As we embrace this time of harvest and preparation, let us always remember to fill our storehouses with gratitude and joy. Like the creatures of the forest, let us fill them until they are overflowing, so that those who may not have enough can find it in us. Choosing to live our lives seeing the “roses” rather than lamenting about the “thorns” fills us with joy, giving us hope, allowing us to see the good in all things. 

So as I quietly sat and pondered what I was truly grateful for, I realized how truly rich and blessed my life has been. That not only was I grateful for all the good things that had come into my life, but also for those moments that taught me to appreciate what I already had. To see that the Lord was guiding me, constantly nudging me to become the person He knows I am, to be all that God desires for me; to see the gift in each and every moment, and each and every person I encounter, allowing my life to be a prayer of gratitude always. 

What fills our heart with gratitude? What truly brings joy into our lives? Questions that we should be asking ourselves routinely, especially when we are feeling bitter or hurt; daring ourselves to look for the blessings that too often are hidden, disguised in the moment. In these moments when the “thorns” are the only things we see, let us remember to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Thes 5:16-18). Amen.

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva lives in Fall River and is a parishioner of St. Michael’s Parish, and she is the Events Coordinator and Bereavement Ministry for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. She is married with three children and two grandchildren.

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