Celebrate Thanksgiving Day With the Saints

In the words of Blessed Solanus Casey, ‘Thank God ahead of time.’

St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1936
St. Maximilian Kolbe in 1936 (photo: Public Domain)

During World War II, a profoundly courageous man was arrested for publishing newspaper articles that spoke out against the Nazi regime. After he had crossed their “tolerance limit” they decided to end him. He was shoved into a vehicle with other innocent Polish people who had also been arrested, and sent off to the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

On the drive out there, reality hit home, and the group was overcome with dread, fear and anguish. It was all over. They were facing grueling, torturous days of suffering. Death was at their door and they knew it. In the midst of their terror, however, this brave man began to sing songs of hope — over and over he sang Polish national songs, and sacred songs of gratitude and praise to God on high. After some time, he was joined by another voice, and then another, and another. In time, he was able to break them free from their gripping angst by giving thanks to God and making beautiful music that touched their hearts.

This man was St. Maximilian Kolbe — a priest entirely surrendered to the loving mercy of God; a child of God who was so inebriated with gratitude toward the Father that he was willing to die so that a fellow child of God could live. 

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s extraordinarily heroic sanctity reminds us of St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, who once said, “The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my trials, with joy,” as well as St. Josemaría Escrivá who advised, “Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that. Because you have been despised. Because you haven’t what you need or because you have. Thank him for everything, because everything is good.”

Many of us are aware of our duty to give thanks to our Creator, from whom all good things come, but we may not be as aware of how radically an attitude of gratitude can actually transform our lives. According to some of the saintliest people who have ever lived, it is the “key” to profound happiness.

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming greed into gratitude,” and in that of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what he is sending us every day in his goodness.”

We have likely all faced tough trials in our lives and traveled through dark, obscure valleys that left us deeply confused and wounded. During those times, we probably wondered if Our Lord had abandoned us, when only sorrow seemed to be at our side. No matter how hard we tried, we just could not seem to feel God’s presence, peace and consolation, and we wondered how an omnipotent, omniscient and loving God could allow us to endure the sufferings in which we were drowning.

After my twin infant daughters died, my mother told me, “Grandpa [a Protestant minister] used to always say, ‘Keep your eyes on what you have, not on what you don’t have.’” Those wise words gave me tremendous strength in the months to come, and inspired me to truly cherish the two living children I did have at the time. Grandpa’s words showed me that by being grateful, I could remember what Our Lord had done for me in the past, and how he had verily always been at my side, through thick and thin. Gratitude helps us see that all throughout our lives, Jesus has not only longed to be our Savior, but also our loyal Savior, confidant, comrade and friend. 

Ultimately, gratitude is not merely something a person “should” show to God, but it is also something a person truly needs to do in order to keep their spirits up and stay healthy in body, mind and soul. It is not just a sort of duty that someone is obliged to perform begrudgingly towards God and others. According to NeuroHealth Associates, gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier. According to their extensive research, they claim that “through the power of gratitude, you can wire your brain to be optimistic and compassionate, making you feel good. The more you look, the more you can find to be grateful for. This positivity can extend to those around you, creating a virtuous cycle.”

Study after study has shown that gratitude:

  • opens doors to additional and more profound relationships with others;
  • improves physical, psychological and spiritual health;
  • enhances empathy and reduces aggression;
  • improves sleep and increases mental strength and self-esteem.

Gratitude fosters one’s relationship with God because when a person takes time to appreciate the good things that are in their lives, they usually recognize that there must be a source of goodness from which these blessings come. For some, being grateful may be the one habit that eventually inspires them to leave a life of darkness and seek out a friendship with their Creator, the King of light and hope.

Some practical ways to crown your days with a grateful attitude may be:

  • to keep a gratitude journal;
  • to set aside times daily, weekly and annually to thank God for the blessings in your life (such as before your daily Rosary, on Sunday after Mass, or on Thanksgiving Day);
  • to make a practice of noticing the positive side of situations and savor the good in others throughout the day; and
  • to keep a gratitude jar during Lent or Advent in which to put notes about things you are thankful for. 

This year, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving Day along with the saints! Their words can help us shine out with the glory of Our Lord, the author of all that is true and beautiful. Along with St. Augustine of Hippo, we may pray, “O my God, let me remember with gratitude and confess to thee thy mercies toward me,” and remember along with St. Teresa of Ávila, “In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give him thanks.”