Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,
This year, our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday comes to us at a time of polarization and division, violence and destruction. Over the past six weeks, on campuses and in communities across the country, including in my own life, bonds of friendship and family have been strained and sometimes even broken. Faced with daily images of suffering – in Israel and Palestine, in Darfur, in Ukraine, in other places around the world and close to home – we may struggle to find reasons to give thanks. Confronted with the brokenness of our world and ourselves, we might be tempted to ask whether gratitude is an appropriate response.
As a Jesuit university, we find consolation in the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose prayer – the Examen – encourages us to search our daily experiences for even the smallest moments of God’s grace, moments that can sustain us through difficult times. When we take the time to look for them, we find they are always present, waiting to be discovered and acknowledged. I am grateful for the gestures of mutual support I see among members of our own community, whether it be annual “Friendsgiving” celebrations or the Graduate Student Council’s Thanksgiving Day gathering for students away from home.
It is in our darkest hours – when we feel the greatest need for love and grace – that the expression of gratitude is more important than ever. As the great Saint and Doctor of the Church, Therese of Lisieux, teaches us, “[w]hat most attracts God’s grace is gratitude.” She assures us that, “if we thank [God] for a gift, He is touched and hastens to give us ten more.” And so, especially when we struggle with feelings of anger or hopelessness, we should turn to gratitude.
This was perhaps the insight that led President Abraham Lincoln to inaugurate this holiday in 1863, amidst the terrible strife of the Civil War. In his first Thanksgiving proclamation, he urged us to take note of
the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. . . I recommend to [Americans] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers . . . fervently implor[ing] the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it . . . to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
As we celebrate our own day of Thanksgiving, 160 years later, let us join our prayers to those of St. Ignatius, St. Therese and President Lincoln, offering gratitude for the light we find amidst darkness, in the urgent hope that, by doing so, we will continue to receive the grace we so desperately need.
Eduardo M. Peñalver