Tuesday September 17, 2019
2:50 am
Bishop Hying

Through gratitude and humility comes the secret of joy and peace in life

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on November 20, 2016

 

       The greatest mystics and saints in our Church show us the path of holiness - a movement of surrender to the love and will of yearning for prayer and things of the Spirit, and a greater vision of truth, beauty and goodness. People like Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, John of the Cross and Mother Teresa prove that the closer you get to God, the simpler life becomes.  The complexities, distractions and competing values of living in this world gently simmer away, like a gourmet reduction recipe. The radical and basic essence of reality remains.

       The simplest things in life move and amaze the mystics and saints. Watching a sunrise, walking in the woods, talking with a homeless person on the street, sharing a meal with a friend, praying in a quiet chapel, playing with grandchildren, listening to the silence of nature or observing the heavens on a clear night all become encounters with God. Such moments lead us to contemplation, where we simply are wrapped in the full reality of the present and understand in a deeply intuitive way the sacredness and unity of everything. 

       In a society that is increasingly distracted, virtual and disconnected, our spirits profoundly hunger for simple experiences of with God, others, nature and our deepest selves.

        Whenever I feel overwhelmed, sad, angry or at loose ends, a walk in the dunes, a meal with a friend, deep prayer time in front of the Eucharist or an hour with a good book bring sanity, healing and connection back with great spiritual force. Without consistent moments of silence, contemplation, friendship and peace, we start losing our humanity!  If we never commune with the world that God made and are only immersed in artificial things, if we never look up, we will always think that we are the highest point.

       Gratitude and thankfulness are hallmarks of the mystical journey. The more we discover the mystery, wonder and miraculous nature of our human existence, the more grateful we become. Life is a gift handed to us on a silver platter by God, and even though pain, grief and struggle may mark our days and wound our hearts, it is so great just to be!

       Philosophically, we can say that our very lives are both a participation in and an extension of the life of God. The human race and the world could have easily gone on without us ever having been, but God thought otherwise and we are grateful for the gift.

       Often, when I preach on Thanksgiving Day, I fill a plastic laundry basket with things that I am grateful for, I bring it to Mass and use the homily to explain what the basket contains and why. Pictures of family and friends, books, my college diploma, the Bible, a crucifix, food, a prayer book, clothing, cross-country skis, tennis shoes, a health insurance card and a myriad of other objects remind me that I am blessed beyond anything I could dare to ask for or imagine.

       When I ponder the complex grace of my being, - body, soul, mind and heart - that I am made in the image and likeness of God, that the Lord seeks to dwell in me and love me forever, I am overwhelmed.  When I meditate on Jesus and the Church, the power of the sacraments and the truth of the Scriptures, the forgiveness, kindness and mercy that have always enveloped me, my heart sings a Magnificat of praise.  When I think of family and friends, teachers and mentors, parishioners and strangers who have accepted and loved me, supported and forgave me, gifted and carried me, it seems too good to be true. I am grateful for food and shelter, travel and books, education and health, freedom and purpose, trees and flowers, history and philosophy, vision and hearing, the ability to walk, laugh, run and climb.

       I thank the Lord for calling me to serve the Church as a priest and now as a bishop. I praise the divine wisdom that brought me to this Diocese of Gary and to all of you. All of it is so mysterious, beautiful, strange, wonderful and good. Life is so great, painful, funny, sad, hard and joyful that it all has to mean something and be moving into something glorious. 

       As we observe Thanksgiving this week, what are you grateful for? What items would you place in the laundry basket and lift up to the Lord in a hymn of praise and thanks? Ingratitude, entitlement and resentment will always seek a higher place and never be satisfied, while thankfulness happily takes the lowest place because it realizes how much has already been given.

       The mystics show us that life is simple, pure and good. The saints teach us that we are well on our way to the Kingdom of God when joy, praise, gratefulness and generosity serve as the hallmark of our lives. 

       Let this coming weekend be more about Thanksgiving Thursday than Black Friday, more about praising than complaining, more about what has been given than what is lacking. Gratitude and humility contain the great secret of joy and peace.  It’s all so simple. What we are searching for has already been given. We just need to reach out and receive it and then pass it on.

 

+ Donald J. Hying

 

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