Sunday, April 12, 2009

Say 'Thank You'

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! And…..?

Lent is over and the Great Vigil complete. There were times in the last week (in the last 24 hours) when I wondered whether it would ever come, whether the four souls I was shepherding toward reception into the church would actually make it. I’ve rarely been as aware of the interference of the world in the practice of faith as I have been during the last week, as my brood faced unexpected obstacles getting paperwork, getting time off from work to attend the Vigil, even getting family to the church on time. Even though I know that all these things are beyond my power to control, it made the last few hours before Easter anxious, doubt filled. One last blast of the temptation to despair, does it never cease?

But then it happened. In a little mission church with a piano and a three person choir, four new Catholics came home. The by-now familiar words of the Vigil, of baptism, of profession, the Litany of Saints filled and stirred my heart, my mind, my senses. The darkness of the last few weeks simply vanished, as it will when the Light enters on the scene. It was easy, in that place, after that preparation, to give heartfelt thanks for the gift of the crucifixion and the power of the resurrection. It was easy for a few moments, at least, to be open to grace.

Of course, there’s always the morning after. And for me, the morning after the Vigil is more like the morning after the Ascension than the morning after the Resurrection. The immediate power of the moment has passed, and again, I am faced with the need to find a way to maintain a relationship with Someone I can’t see, can’t feel, can’t hear –at least, most of the time. Knowing full well what I have experienced, the vibrancy of the moment still fades, as it always does for me. There is breakfast to be made, a house to be cleaned, a job to go to, dogs to walk, bills to pay. Maybe I just have a short emotional attention span, a poor spiritual memory, am too easily distracted. Is there such a thing as spiritual ADD?

How do I conjure up the ability to give thanks except in an intellectual way once the emotion has passed? Pray for the grace to remember, of course, but I discovered something else, quite by accident.

During Lent, I decided to take full advantage of the concept of “little Easter,” and focused my Sundays on thanksgiving. Instead of my usual intentions, whenever I lifted my mind to prayer, it was to give thanks, sometimes for the oddest things. For my cats. For clean sheets. For hot water. For indoor plumbing. For a full larder. For a mess of dishes in the sink, because I had both food and friends to dirty them. For unwashed clothes, because it meant I had pleasures to occupy my time more appealingly than doing laundry. For an aggravating call from my son, because he’d actually called and because the problem was simple to solve. I found myself almost embarrassed because I was bringing thanksgiving down to such a pitiful, mundane, uninspired state, but I plowed on. I tried very hard not to let a single, personal “I want” intrude into my Sunday prayers.

Once I did, I began to understand things I had never really grasped before both in my life and in my worship. Repeatedly, the Mass readings and prayers called me to give thanks for the penitential season that rearranges my heart. It called me to give thanks for the sacrifice of Christ. It called me to give thanks for this, for that, for the other. Once I began to hear the words, I realized that the whole mass is a call to give thanks, give thanks, give thanks—which should be no great surprise given that Eucharist means, literally, “thanksgiving.” (Some of us are a little slower on the uptake than the others.) When Holy Mother Church asks us to give thanks, she really means it!

Another piece of the puzzle dropped into place. That which we can be commanded to do (to love, to give alms, to sin no more, to give thanks) must, by definition, be in part an act of will. Will cooperating with grace, but will, never the less. Thanksgiving, like loving, is more an act of devotion than a feeling of pleasure. Begin the act, the feeling follows. Ask any mother who has had to prod her offspring into gratitude. I don’t have to feel thankful, I have to be thankful.

So I will give thanks to Christ for His sacrifice by doing what I can to bring that grace to others, however and whenever I can. From my own perspective, I know that I don’t go about my day with my heart and mind overflowing with the overwhelming emotion that I am redeemed—and probably a good thing, because it would make it hard to do the job I have been given.

I will ask for the grace to spend my day being responsive to those around me as Christ would have me be, and in my quiet moments, ask that those be counted as the thanks they are, the thanks of one whose job is not so much to think as to do, not so much to feel as to show. The thankful acts that are of the heart as much as are the heart’s emotions. The thanks that can only happen because of Good Friday and Easter Day, and the response that they compel from my fallen but grateful self. And the feelings will follow and grow.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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