By Corrine Winter
By the time this article appears in The Catholic Messenger, most of us have probably worked our way through the Thanksgiving leftovers. Perhaps we are now focused on starting Christmas preparations. But hopefully, we have not finished giving thanks. That might sound like a platitude from some self-help book on positive thinking, but our Catholic spiritual tradition includes thanksgiving among the four key attitudes for prayer, the others being petition, sorrow and praise. As we give thanks to God, we grow in understanding who we are in relationship with God and thus in relationship with one another.
All we have is God’s gift. Certainly, we can list some accomplishments, but the time, energy, talents and circumstances that allowed us to achieve as we have are not among the things we have accomplished. No matter how hard we have worked, we cannot have earned God’s love for us, the ultimate gift of salvation, the country and family we came from, the talents we enjoy or the gift of life itself. And since we have not earned it, it is not ours to grasp, to hoard or to boast about; rather it is ours to repay.
Further, since we cannot give God anything God needs or add anything to the fullness of God’s life, we owe it to others in God’s name. As people who have received so much through the overflowing generosity of God, we ought to be generous, giving of ourselves as much as we can, not as a show of unexpected virtue, but as an expression of who we are at the most basic level. We ought to view our giving not as an expression of our own beneficence, but as an inadequate payment of what we owe to our sisters and brothers.
On deeper reflection, our appreciation of what we have received and our desire to share it with others can go beyond making donations and volunteering time. In times of misfortune and suffering, we sometimes are tempted to ask, “Why me?” What if we ask the same question about our good fortune? What if we begin to examine the systems within which we have known success and ask how they can be altered to offer opportunities for similar success to more people?
In our recent celebration of Veterans Day, we saw evidence of a national recognition that appreciation of military personnel and their sacrifices can be enhanced rather than diminished when we extend appreciation to those who make sacrifices and take risks to defend us from dangers at home — to firefighters, police officers and first responders. By a similar logic, our sense of accomplishment could be enhanced by seeing and appreciating the talents and accomplishments of others and by seeing their hard work similarly rewarded.
A look at statistics about those in need shows that our system needs to do a much better job of rewarding many kinds of skills and efforts. Meals that we enjoy eating out are often prepared and served by people who have the ability to be courteous on aching feet and to smile when they are blamed for something not their fault. Hotel rooms are cleaned by those willing to rise early, work long and hard and deal with other people’s messes. Precious children, sick and elderly persons are cared for by folks whose patience and resourcefulness sometimes seem to know no bounds. Can we make adjustments in our economic system to provide just recognition and compensation for those workers?
Barb Arland-Fye’s editorial for Nov. 22 included reminders that “hunger hides in the midst of affluence,” and therefore we should not let apparently good economic news on a national level make us think there is no longer anyone in need. It seems that we should think of ways to make hunger come out of hiding. Certainly, we don’t want to invade the privacy of individuals and families, but statistics on hunger are startling — numbers such as 12 million food-insecure children in the United States. Barb mentioned a number of sources for reliable information. What if those statistics were published as regularly as the stock market reports? What if reports on declining unemployment had to be accompanied by statements on whether that decline is matched by a decline in numbers living at or below poverty level, numbers lacking adequate housing and health care?
Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to bring out our desire to give to others. Witness the many kinds of drives to provide food and gifts to those who might go without them. I would love to see that generous spirit extend to a desire to have many more people share in the gift of being recognized and rewarded for their abilities and hard work. Maybe we can include one action in that direction in our efforts this season.
(Corinne Winter is a professor-emeritus of St. Ambrose University, Davenport.