Gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of creation

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher, April issue, Southeast Alaska Catholic

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

Forty days after it began, Lent is (finally) over and the Easter season has arrived! I began Lent with a plan of daily Mass, prayer and spiritual reading, which started out strong but two weeks in I got sick (a virus of some sort which turned into acute bronchitis) which made the next three weeks feel like a combination of the “Purgatorio” and “Lost Weekend”. But I recovered (mostly) in time for Holy Week and the Triduum.

Not that my Lenten experience wasn’t spiritually fruitful, far from it, but it wasn’t what I was planning on. Which, at least in my experience, is usually the case in the spiritual life. I suppose what this particular Lent taught me more than anything else was gratitude.

Being sick meant that I didn’t feel up to attending daily Mass for a couple of weeks and had to stay home in bed for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This reminded me of how much I take for granted the ability to be able to participate and serve at Mass on Sundays and weekdays. I was grateful as well to experience, even if temporarily, the daily reality of our people in the mission communities, of those in the hospital or in prison and the elderly and infirm, shut-ins in their homes or apartments, who are not able to participate in the Eucharist frequently.

The other way I learned gratitude during this Lent was through fasting. Not through eating less (that was taken care of by being sick and having little or no appetite!) but by persevering in a very little but meaningful (for me, at least) fast, in which I refrained from adding milk to my tea. Now you have to understand that I am an inveterate tea drinker, and I drink it with milk (preferably cream!). In years past I’ve done what the Irish call, the “black fast” on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday but until this year, I couldn’t bring myself to make that small but difficult (for me) sacrifice for forty whole days.

No 07 The difference this year was that on the advice of my much loved Grandma Clara I committed myself to fasting for, rather than fasting from. When I was a child she had continually encouraged me and my sisters to regard our little sufferings and deprivations as an opportunity to “offer them up” for others in need (beginning with the holy souls in Purgatory). Although I doubt she’d ever read a word of St. John Chrysostom, my grandmother had thoroughly absorbed his teaching on Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He recommended fasting as an embodied way of praying for the needs of others, and so did my grandmother!

Remembering that, I endeavored to make my little sacrifice this Lent for the needs and intentions of others. People I know personally who have asked me, unworthy as I am, to pray for them, and people I’ll never know, such as persecuted Christians and the refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq. Going without milk in my tea was my entirely mundane opportunity to live out my baptism, through which I share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry of Christ Jesus.

It was just the tiniest of sacrifices but I will admit I really enjoyed that first cup of tea with milk after the Easter Vigil! Going without made me appreciate what I had been missing, but also reminded me how much I take for granted. It is so easy for me to take for granted the daily miracle of life and love that God has given each of us and this beautiful world which he has created and in which he has placed me and all the people and creatures that inhabit it.
During this Easter season I want to find time to reflect more deeply on those aspects of the Holy Father’s recent encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” which are most Eucharistic. While you might think that given the urgency of the ecological crisis that “Laudato Si” would be all about rising sea levels, carbon credits and alternative energy, it is at its heart, an invitation to ponder the gift of life and of creation which God has given us and to respond with gratitude and thanksgiving.

Again and again, the Holy Father stresses that the world created and shaped by our loving God is above all sacred and holy. And that we, as priestly and chosen people, made holy and filled with new life in the waters of baptism, are to reverence and honor the creation, which is a purely gratuitous gift from the Father.

Towards the end of the letter he wrote a lengthy reflection on the Eucharist, from which I quote this brief excerpt:

“It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter.
He comes, not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God!

May each of us grow in that profound gratitude that is the wellspring of our Paschal joy and rejoicing.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

– Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 x 23. Email: charlesr@gci.net

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