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Gratefulness can turn life into a blessing

By Paul Paproski, OSB


“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.” This passage from Numbers (6:22-26) began the readings this year. The first reading of the year offered a blessing. The reading should be familiar to everyone as it fell on Jan. 1, a holy day of obligation.

As you reminisce about the past year, can you recall any blessings? Can you remember kind things that were done for you? Can you recall some of your good deeds? Can you bring to mind some of your meaningful experiences or any of your achievements?

A young man reflected on a Christmas when, as a young boy, he and his younger brother had very different reactions to their gifts. The older brother opened his Christmas gift to find a wristwatch. It was a traditional wind-up model with hands that pointed to the correct time. He had asked for a watch and was pleased to receive what was on his wish list.

Christmas The younger brother opened his present to find he had received a watch, too. The boy was utterly amazed with his gift. It was a digital watch with digital numbers and gadgets the boys had never before seen on watches. There were all kinds of buttons that enabled the watch to, among other things, send off an alarm and become a stopwatch. The face even lit up when a button was pressed. The watch was so futuristic and complex for the new owner that he enlisted the help of his father to show him how everything worked. The older brother was indignant over his younger sibling’s gift he viewed as much more exciting. As the father helped his younger son learn the intricacies of the digital watch, the older son grew increasingly sullen inside. The younger brother, he believed, had been favoured and received the better gift.

The older brother learned, years later, that the wristwatch he received for Christmas had belonged to his father. It was one of two watches owned by his father and the better of the two. The father prized the watch and wore it only on special occasions. The father, ill and unemployed, gave the present to his oldest son, because there was not enough money to purchase gifts for both sons.

The older son later married and raised a family. He did very well in his career and received a handsome salary. As his children grew he came to understand the sacrificial love of his father and mother. The success of the son never overshadowed the fond memories he had of his father and mother and the times spent together as a family.

Another family celebrated Christmas every year with a birthday party for Jesus. An extra chair of honour at the table became the family’s reminder of Jesus’ presence. A cake with candles, along with the singing of Happy Birthday expressed the family’s joy in Jesus’ presence. One year on Christmas afternoon a visitor to the home asked a five-year-old girl, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” After a moment’s hesitation, she answered, “No, but then it’s not my birthday!”

Poet George Herbert once said, “Thou has given so much to me . . . Give me one more thing — a grateful heart.” A grateful heart knows the obvious blessings in life and can thank God for them. A grateful heart recognizes the hardships of life and can thank God for them, for a grateful heart knows even the bad experiences bring blessings by strengthening us, helping us to reorder our priorities and grow in compassion.

Ultimately, a grateful heart challenges us to face our past, with its joyful and painful moments, and to discover God at work in the whole of it.

As you enter the Christmas season and begin 2015, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.”