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Reflection for Gaudete Sunday - by Br. Brad Elliott, OP
"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances.Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it." - 1 Thes 5:16-24
As human beings we must desire our own happiness, we cannot NOT desire our own human flourishing. But there is a connection between achieving happiness and knowing the truth about ourselves. We cannot have one without the other.If we do not embrace the truth about ourselves, and act according to that truth, human flourishing will be impossible. Likewise, if we do not embrace the truth of the world around us, and act according to that truth, our happiness will be spurious at best.
The simplest truths about reality that every human person must learn: Who made me? God made me. Why did God make me? To know, love, and serve Him in this life and be eternally happy with Him in the next. These are the fundamental truths about our existence. Human happiness cannot be achieved without embracing these truths. We have been given the gift of existence, called out of the backdrop of nothingness, out of the sheer gratuity of God. Everything we have is first a gift. Everything.
But do we live as if we know this truth? What would it look like if we were to live in and from this reality?
I believe that Saint Paul has a clue. He tells us to rejoice always. To pray without ceasing. And in all circumstances give thanks.
What could ever be a more reasonable response to the fundamental truth of our being than this- giving thanks for all things in all circumstances? This attitude of thanksgiving is the only reasonable response to the truth that all we have is a gift. This means that showing gratitude in all things is living in reality; it is the only right way to live.
The contemporary spiritual writer Henri Nouwen remarked, "In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy."
Gratitude consists in being more aware of all those things that we DO have, ingratitude is more aware of what we do not have. Gratitude is conscious of things as they are; ingratitude is conscious of things the way they are not. In this sense, gratitude is always an embracing of the truth of our reality, it is stepping out of the fog of our minds' projection of the world the way we want it to be and a stepping into the light of the way things are.
G.K. Chesterton famously said, in his very Chestertonian way, "I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." I think Chesterton is on to something here. There is a deep connection between our fundamental desire for happiness, our mind's desire to see the truth and the attitude of thanksgiving for all things.
As we approach the Solemnity of the birth of our Lord Jesus, and as we work through the final week of the academic term, let us strive to cultivate a deeper awareness of the sheer gratuity and love of God as it is reflected in even the smallest things in our lives. Let us especially strive to recognize this gratuity and love as it is reflected in the people around us. In other words, let us enter into reality. For it is precisely in this recognition that a secret to happiness may be found.