Focusing on these small, ordinary pleasures lifts my mind, heart, and soul, bringing them home to the concrete realities that make my life worthwhile. Instead of sinking into depression, I find I'm soaring into a new level of peace, floating on the steady wings of gratitude. For gratitude always leads us home to the loves in our lives, the loves that originate in the overflowing and faithful love of our God.
Nothing and no one enters our lives except through the Providence of God. Fr. James Martin, S. J. says he learned this lesson through Gauddy, (short for "Gaudiosa," which means "joyful" in Latin,) a Rwandese woman, a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, where Fr. Martin and others had opened a shop for refugees to market their wares. Gauddy was a talented seamstress, who had received a grant to purchase a single sewing machine; she and several other women then opened a tailoring business. Fr. Martin prompted her to make liturgical stoles for priests out of a colorful Rwandese cotton fabric called "kitenge:" all she'd have to do is sew two long pieces of cloth together in a V shape. Gauddy always had pieces of leftover kitenge in her tailoring shop. Fr. Martin recounts
"Gauddy's kitenge stoles flew off our shelves; we could barely keep them in stock. When I ordered twenty more in the first week, Gauddy folded her hands in her lap, bowed her head, and said, 'God is good.'
" 'Yes,' I said, but why did she think so?
"' Why?' Gauddy laughed and clapped her hands, evidently surprised that I would ask such a ridiculous question...."God is helping me get rid of this leftover kitenge. God is giving me money for making these stoles, which are so easy to make. God is giving me this business for my shop, and for my ladies. Surely you can see that God is very, very good!'
"As with many refugees, Gauddy's thoughts, in good times and bad, turned to God. Perhaps I would have eventually discerned God's hand, but Gauddy saw God immediately. She typified the relationship that many refugees had with God....Gauddy had placed herself closer to God, and so was a better friend to God than I was." (from "The Jesuit Guide To (Almost) Everything.")
When the voice of gratitude often lifts our hearts, we can soar higher, risking, daring, more than we ever would have dreamed possible. I see this often in the shining faces of couples who have lived together in stability for a long time without being married, - and now they've come to the parish because they've decided that they want a sacramental Church wedding. Maybe they rejected getting married in the past because they were opposed to anything institutional, feeling that a "piece of paper" wouldn't change anything. Or they wanted to wait until they were more secure in life, with steady jobs and a steady income. Or marriage seemed too expensive for them, because of society's pressure on them to have a lavish wedding. Or one or both of them were terrified of commitment because of their parents' or other relatives' unhappy marriages. Or they didn't feel particularly close to God or the Church. But, after all these years together, they say, something had changed for them.....
They were grateful, you see..... Grateful that this person whom they had lived with had been tender and faithful, helping them in bad times, celebrating life with them in good times. Gradually their hurts and fears had been loved away. And, looking at this relationship with new eyes, from a new depth of mature love, they had come to see that marriage is not just an institutional law, or a piece of paper. Over the years, they'd become aware of God and the grace of God in the concrete ordinary circumstances of their lives. Marriage would be a way to voice their gratitude for God's healing love in their lives, expressed in their love for each other, and to solemnly commit themselves to this love in front of their community of family and friends in God's House, the Church.
Their gratitude urged them to soar, to dare, to take a new risk: marriage. Furthermore, in a marriage ceremony they could publicly acknowledge their gratitude to God, Who was the Source of their love for each other, and to solemnly invite God to become an active Partner in their relationship. For they knew He had been a silent Partner all along, leading them gradually to trust each other, to overcome youthful selfishness, to understand and want a sacramental union. And now they knew they didn't need lavish "frills" to do this. How good God is! God always leads us to rejoice, to be grateful, to grow in wisdom and grace, to ever more fully live our lives in accord with the Gospel!
Every day and night, as we look, really look, at our lives, we can find something to thank God for. When our forty year old son Peter died, we had an unexpected visitor at the wake, a young man, Mark, whom our son had asked us about, in high school, because Mark's life was hard and dangerous just then. On our son's recommendation, we had asked Mark to live with us, which he had for a few years - and then he'd moved out of town. I had thought often of him. But he kept moving around and we didn't know his phone number or his address. How was he doing? I wondered. Our other children had been in touch with him on Facebook, and suddenly, there he was, at Peter's wake, having traveled to Buffalo from Seattle. He embraced us all, and his eyes were filled with gratitude, maturity, and steady love. I was in the depths of grief, yet my heart soared with gratitude to God - gratitude that Mark was with us in this hour when we needed his love and support. Mark was here, sent by God, and Mark's life and heart were doing well, very well.
August 15 is the Feast of Mary's entering Heaven, body and soul, Mary whose entire life soared because of her continuing loving gratitude to God. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord," she sang, for God had reached out to her in her lowliness and invited her to be the mother of His Son Jesus. God had chosen the unknown one, the ordinary one, in whom to work His most extraordinary act for humanity: the enfleshment, life, death, and resurrection of His Son for us. God has placed His Son in each of our souls, and our ordinary lives can enflesh His life daily, if only we become gratefully aware of His power available in us. If we praise Him and trust Him and thank Him, even when our lives are difficult and our burdens are heavy, we can watch our spirits soar - as we allow Him to pour His extraordinarily faithful love through us, into our ordinary lives and into our world.