If your family comes together to share good food and happy memories, you are blessed. Unfortunately, some family gatherings are stressful because of long-held grudges and lack of forgiveness. But I don’t want to focus on just Thanksgiving Day itself, but being thankful every day as a basic virtue that can brighten our lives.

I tend to be a pretty happy guy. People tell me that I smile a lot. That comes as second nature to me because I count among my blessings a loving family and my fulfilling life as a Franciscan. I know that others carry many crosses and I listen to their stories with compassion. But I’m convinced that being thankful can brighten a dark day.

Scientists have done research that shows grateful people sleep better, are healthier, happier, less depressed, less stressed, and have more positive ways of coping with difficulties.

Benedictine David Steindl-Rast writes about the practice of gratitude as a way of healing oneself and society. He takes an active role in “Gratefulness: Network for Grateful Living,” an interactive, online forum in which thousands from many countries participate. He sees gratitude as a remedy for the exploitation, oppression, and violence that plague our society. Thankfulness, he says, is also the heart of prayer.

The Love of God

Faith provides us with powerful reasons to be grateful. We recognize the Giver of all good things and put our trust in God who loves us.

“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has given us—and he has given us everything,” Thomas Merton writes. “Every breath we draw is a gift of his love, every moment of existence is a grace. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

When we are mired in crisis, a spirit of gratitude can help us. It can prompt us to go deeper to the foundation on which can stand.

Toward the end of his life, St. Francis was in pain from the wounds in his body. He was going blind. But his faith in God’s presence was real, and from his heart he sang a hymn of thanks: “Praise be my Lord for Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the stars, Sister Water, Brother Fire, our Sister Mother Earth. . . . Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks.”

An Invitation to Readers

I invite you to share your experiences of thankfulness. Have you had success in letting gratitude pull you out of a bad mood? Also, I welcome any topics you would suggest for future E-spirations.

A final thought from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you said was thank you—that would be enough.”

I pray that you will have a great Thanksgiving!

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you so much for your thoughts on “The Foundation of Our Lives.” Here in Africa, there is so much distress and a lack of understanding about how wonderful God is. Now, because of these E-spirations, we know that the most important thing is the foundation on which we are building our eternal houses. Alvina

A: Dear Alvina: Yes, the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching says more in just a few words so that the simplest person can understand and live it out. That’s why Jesus is truly the teacher. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for “The Foundation of Our Lives.” This is so very timely! My husband is a new convert and has been teaching RCIA for two years now. Though he knows there is much to learn, I can see he has been gifted in this service, fueled with enthusiasm and wonder. Even so, he is a humble and prayerful man. Your e-newsletter will provide some extra assurance that he is truly fit for the task. You’ve written so many e-newsletters that have really blessed me. Jody

A: Dear Jody: As you alluded, the best teachers are those who teach not only by their good words, but by their example of living the Christian life. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for your summary of the role that Jesus should play in our lives, especially in the exercise of our vocations. You mention priests and religious within the Body of Christ who are called to witness to that presence of Jesus. What about our bishops and deacons who also share in that hierarchical mission that has been entrusted to us by the Lord? I think of, first and foremost, Francis of Assisi, who never wanted to be a priest, but allowed himself to be ordained a deacon so that he could do what we should all be doing: preach by saying little and doing more. Deacon Vincent

A: Deacon Vincent: Yes, the Gospel is taught by both the greatest and the least and all those in between. And the reason? The Gospel truth is conveyed by the same Holy Spirit working in each person in just the perfect way. Friar Jim