There are many starting points on a faith journey. But one essential milestone along the way is gratitude. Without waking each day with a sense of wonder and delight in the world we begin to stagger on the journey.
We all know about the bitter priest, the hardened nun or the strident convert. They all, apparently, have faith and solid morality. But where are the smiles and the celebration of the joy of God?
Of all the stories of grace and salvation, I always find the most moving are those of people, confronted by inexplicable hardship or sorrow, finding their way to reaffirming faith in a loving God. It is remarkable how people have retained faith, or even found it, in concentration camps, prisons and in the midst of extreme physical hardship. Indeed one of the startling characteristics of many facing grave illness is a renewed sense of gratitude for the life they live.
Being truly grateful is not particularly easy. It is often simpler to focus on the woes and worries that burden us. To be grateful is to look beyond these and celebrate the small things. This attitude seems to sit more comfortably with those who have the least. Even the most miserable of slums and barren of dessert villages seem to ring with the sounds of true laughter.
The difficulty in gratitude for us – in our wealth and comfort – is that it is ultimately a call for humility. We find it easier to think that if we manipulate the world to a certain outcome, praying along the way for this result, then any success is due to us alone. It is much harder for us to simply let go and accept that most (and an overwhelming most) of what is good and joyful in the world is not due to what we do. To celebrate this is to give of ourselves, admit our own limitations and participate in a banquet that we have not prepared.
Christ’s call that we must all come to the Father as children surely has something to do with preserving the simple gratitude of children.