I was out doing an errand this week. I listened to the local sports talk radio station as I drove along. Listening to the news was just too depressing. The show hosts had Mac Jones and the Patriots all talked out I presume, because I caught them amid a rant against Christmas. All three of the show hosts were screaming, as they always do, about how much they hate Christmas. They complained about shopping, putting up decorations, and a Christmas tree. I quickly shut them off and decided to listen to road noise instead.
These weeks leading up to Christmas can sometimes seem like a burden. There are so many beautiful things like concerts and parties leading up to the holidays that they can become troublesome. We all want Christmas to be perfect, and we add pressure to our lives to try to get it to come about. This year, we may be adding even more anxiety since we feel cheated that the pandemic cut into Christmas plans last year. It is tough to stay focused on the blessings of the Christmas Season.
Last week I suggested that focusing on an attitude of gratitude is a good way to prepare for this Christmas Season. Being ungrateful can be a trap we fall into this time of year, and the three hosts on WEEI are good examples. We can end up wasting more time and energy complaining and fretting about all the demands we face this time of year than it takes actually to do what needs doing.
Being ungrateful is a trap that is incompatible with happiness and wellbeing. The radio personalities' voices became louder and harsher as they expressed their opinions about Christmas, and you could almost feel their blood pressure rise. If we are ungrateful, we'll never be happy people.
Studies show that practicing gratitude is the way to grow in happiness and wellbeing. In our hearts, we know that already. We have all experienced the good feeling that comes over us when we feel grateful. The sun is warmer and the air fresher, and our hearts feel lighter and our muscles more relaxed. When we focus on good things, life feels better, and we are healthier and more productive. When we feel grateful, our relationships are more fulfilling, vital, and successful.
Having an attitude of gratitude isn't ignoring the world's problems, and it isn't false optimism or pretended ignorance of the challenges we face. It is always easier to confront issues if we have a positive attitude and have the feeling we can deal with our difficulties. Psychology, our own life experiences, and examples from scripture all confirm it. Gratitude helps us live more satisfying lives.
How do we live with gratitude? It is simple but not easy. Living with gratitude takes time, discipline, dedication, and a focused commitment. We need to set up a plan to take the time to recognize our gifts and blessings. When we get busy or face a challenge, we focus on that problem alone, and it can become an obsession. We should develop habits of looking for things, even tiny things, to be grateful for each day.
Last week I suggested writing a log of everything you are grateful for at the end of each day. As Advent goes on, I predict your entries will fill with more instances for which you are thankful. After Masses, several people told me they felt it was a good idea and planned to practice it. One woman said she would encourage her husband to do it, and a teenager's mother suggested it as a Confirmation requirement. I've started doing it myself, and I feel it would be good practice for everyone in the family. Make plans to share your entries as a family. You might learn a great deal about each other.
After you make yourself aware of what you are grateful for, turn from the gift towards the giver of the gift. Recognize that God is the giver of all for which we are thankful. All our gifts are personal because they come from God, who loves us personally. All our blessings are unique to us because God has a personal relationship with each of us. Having recognized our blessings, we more clearly see God's love for us and want to make it grow.
Next, practice gratitude even in the face of our problems. We can lose our feelings of appreciation when big problems come along. If we face unemployment, major health problems, financial setbacks, or other significant concerns, we can lose appreciation for our circumstances. Faith is the willingness to thank God for God's blessing in advance, and it is the appreciation for the transformation and character development that will occur as we deal with the problems we face.
Little annoyances can eat away at our gratefulness too. What Jesus calls the concerns of day-to-day life all add up to attack our feelings of gratitude. Take time to thank God you have a job when it becomes stressful. Appreciate the availability of medical care when you are sick. Be thankful you care about others when relationships become a stain. Faith is seeing the blessings that are behind all your burdens.
Today, I'd like to turn to our showing gratitude for the people in our lives, especially people who show us encouragement. The second reading today, from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, is a good example. It is often called Paul's thank you note. Paul had a particularly close relationship with the Church community at Phillipi. He told them, " I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus."
Phillipi was the first city in Europe where Paul preached and established a church. The community was very supportive of Paul and his work. Paul always prided himself on never depending on the communities he preached in for support, and he supported himself by the work of his hands. Still, the Philippians sent him financial support during his travels. He tells them, "I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now."
Paul wrote this thank you note to the Philippians from prison. He is thanking them for prayers and financial support, especially for sending a community member to help see to his needs in prison. He tells them he hopes that he will revisit them and thank them for their support.
Who is it from a past season in your life you give thanks for every time you think of them? Do you have a teacher, neighbor, parent of a friend, or family member who especially encouraged you when you needed guidance?
For me, it was the woman who was the housekeeper at the rectory of my first assignment. Her name was Nancy Howard. She was the first person to greet me when I came to the door as a newly ordained priest. More than anyone else, she made me feel welcome and appreciated. She loved that I was Irish, and we shared the joys and challenges of having that ethnic background. Although she didn't belong to the parish, she attended Daily Mass there and occasionally was present on Sundays. She encouraged me and was a sounding board for me as I first spread my wings.
She also taught me a great lesson about pastoral ministry. One afternoon I became exasperated with her over a trivial matter, and I chewed her out. Although no one else witnessed it, I humiliated her. The next day she came and sat me down and told me how hurtful I had been, and I better not do it ever again. She made me realize I must always treat parishioners, especially women, with respect. I am forever grateful for her friendship and pray for her often.
Who are the people right now that are a blessing in your life? They are the ones you can depend on for encouragement and support whenever you need it. When you think of them, the thought brightens your day, and they make your heart feel lighter. They are such a consistent blessing for you that you might take them for granted sometimes.
I've found blessings from such people throughout my priesthood, and I'm getting Christmas notes from some of them this year. Even though it might be a decade or so since I was their priest, I believe I could call on them if I were in need. I found those sort of people here at Holy Redeemer too. I've found supportive and encouraging people who are willing to give me honest feedback and thoughtful advice.
Paul found such people in the Church of Philippi, and he called them his partners in sharing the gospel. He said, " And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ."
This Advent, make showing gratitude for the people in your life who support you a priority. Human beings need other human beings, and we need relationships with others to feel the fulness of life. It is through these relationships that we see God.
Ours is an often individualistic society, and we often pretend that we can go it alone, but we can't replace bonding with other people. We need relationships, and we accomplish so much more when we work together. This week, think of one person you need to thank from your past. They are someone you feel especially grateful to because of their love and support. Maybe you took that person for granted when you were in contact. If you can't thank them in person, pray for them. Thank those who are supportive of you now. Let them know they are special to you and you appreciate them. Grateful hearts grow in generosity and might even help people like those radio personalities learn gratefulness.