The Grace of Gratitude

By Dr. Tom Neal

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” — Meister Eckhart

nealI came across this quote a few years ago, and was stopped in my tracks by the simplicity of its vision. Gratitude, which is the acknowledgement of being the beneficiary of an unearned gift, possesses life-changing power.

My grandmother used to always say to her grandkids, “Most of the problems today in the world come from a lack of gratitude. Everyone feels entitled, so no one is grateful.” When she would say this to me as a teen, I thought of it as simplistic and trite. But as I’ve grown older, its truth has become overwhelmingly clear and my wife and I work hard to pass this truth on to our children.

We all bear “debts of gratitude” to others – our parents, our teachers, and the nearly limitless procession of people who have, in ways great and small, gone beyond what is strictly required in order to make our lives better; to make us better human beings. Those of us who bear this debt of gratitude can only rightly repay it, as the saying goes, by “paying it forward” to benefit others who, like ourselves, can make no strict claims on our love and patience, generosity and time.

As people of faith, we add to our “litany of gratitude” God Himself, who created us, sustains us and redeems us. He is owed an infinite debt of thanksgiving. But how can we repay such a debt? As Catholics, we believe it is above all in the Holy Eucharist, which unites us with Christ’s supreme act of thanksgiving, that we return to God the Father fitting thanksgiving by offering the first fruits of lives lived in sacrificial service to God and neighbor. In other words, the eucharistic gratitude we offer God in the Mass must arise above all from our daily labor of loving our neighbor. St. Catherine of Siena, giving voice to God the Father, expresses this powerfully in her Dialogue:

I ask you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I loved you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me — that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.

I once met a woman in Iowa who had served as a nurse for over thirty years. She boasted to me that she had never missed a day of work in her whole career. When I marveled that someone could remain so healthy, she said: “I’ve always believed that my health was a gift from God so that I could care for the sick, because if I’m sick they won’t have me to take care of them.” I thought, now that’s the sign of a saint – someone who sees her health not as a sign of God’s favor for her, but as a sign of God’s favor for others. Yes, saints are the most grateful people in the world and, consequently, the most giving people in the world.

“What do you have that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” — 1 Cor. 4:7

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal is originally from Rhode Island. He has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.  Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

Rehabbing Gratitude

By Sr. Judy Gomila, M.S.C.

Physical therapy helps an individual to gain strength, mobility and fitness through exercise. It takes commitment and consistency if we are to reap the benefits of the rehab. I learned this personally when I had total knee replacement surgery. As I had been forewarned, the rehab was painful – although the physical therapist was gentle, compassionate and full of good humor.

Through prayer in recent months, I have become more aware of the transfer value of physical therapy experience. Have you ever considered spiritual rehab to increase your functional abilities to live the Gospel? A broken spirit…a hardened heart…a bruised relationship…a rigid outlook can all benefit from the miraculous wonders of a heart that exercises gratitude.

snoopyJust in time for Thanksgiving – with advantages to be felt all year long – we can rehab our inner selves and appreciate our multiple blessings. A quick and easy way to connect to God is to express gratitude. Gratitude is a response to the Giver of a gift: food, a sunrise, friends, talents, life itself.

When we give thanks our spirit joins with the Great Spirit in the dance of life that is the rhythm between giver and receiver. When working among Native American Tlingit people in Alaska, I learned so much about their sensibility. For example, a person about to take the life of something – a deer, a tree, salmon – humbly asks permission of the spirit that dwells in the animal or plant and gives thanks for their willingness to sacrifice their own life. Sometimes a pinch of corn or tobacco was given in compensation. This acknowledges mutuality – giving/receiving on both sides.

Gratitude can help us to overcome the “Gimmes”. In today’s society we are on a consumer treadmill. Catalogues, ads, commercials beckon us to big box stores, a smorgasbord of dollar stores, QVC, etc. I find it amazing that we rent containers to keep “our stuff” in because we don’t have enough room at home…and we keep on buying.

Over the years, I’ve read a variety of articles about dieting and weight loss. One tip suggests that you eat slowly and wait 20 minutes so your stomach will know it is full. Maybe a similar strategy could apply before we make more unnecessary purchases. Giving thanks for what we already have is like that pause when eating.   It allows us to register on the emotional and spiritual level that we have enough!

With commitment and consistency the exercise of a grateful heart will also discover the hidden blessings in difficult situations: death of a loved one, the diagnosis of cancer, loss of a job, Katrina fall out. These can be some of our greatest teachers. We can be appreciative of the lesson if not the pain.

Thanksgiving is an annual holiday. As people of faith, we can exercise on-going, inner rehab and approach each day with an attitude of gratitude. Reflect on other benefits of gratitude. Let us come before God with thanksgiving and extol God with music and song (Psalm 95) – no spandex or tennis shoes required.

Pray: Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise – http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/Bible/Thanksgiving-Bible-Verses.aspx#

Read:The Benefits of Gratitude – http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

View:The Story of Stuff – http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/

 

HS_JudyGomilaSr. Judith Gomila, MSC is a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross. She holds a Masters in Theology and Religious Studies from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Sr. Judy has served the Church in education/evangelization/mission outreach for 50 years. Currently she coordinates the Public Relations and Communication ministry for the Marianite Congregation and is co-director of the Marianite Associates, an organization for lay women and men who identify with Holy Cross spirituality. For more about this blogger, click here.

Welcome Dr. Tom Neal!

The NOLA Catholic Experience is excited to welcome Dr. Tom Neal to our regular blogging team! Originally from Rhode Island, Tom has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. He has worked for twenty years in adult catechesis, retreat ministry and teaching theology in various contexts trying to make present for others the “Word made fresh.” Tom received a Masters in Systematic Theology from Mount St. Mary’s University and a PhD in Religion at Florida State University. His Masters studies focused on the Orthodox theology of salvation known as theosis, and his doctoral studies concentrated on the socio-historical contexts within which late medieval mysticism flourished in Spain. His dissertation was on the Teresian Carmelite reform and the construction of ascetical identity in the writings of St. John of the Cross.

While he loves to continue his work on general topics of spiritual theology, especially inasmuch as they relate to priestly formation, Tom has dedicated much of his energy more recently to theological reflection on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful to be “secular saints” whose essential labor is to consecrate the world itself to God by faithfully living out their personal vocations in the world. He believes that the Church has yet to produce a proper theology of “lay secularity” and, consequently, a robust vision of spirituality that is suited to those whose primary path to perfection is to be found in engaging in temporal, secular affairs. His hope is to make a small contribution to that development.

Be sure to follow Dr. Neal’s personal blog at Neal Obstat Theological Opinings!

Step up and Step Out: Celebrating Black Catholic History Month

By Ansel Augustine, MPS

Don’t forget to make plans to join us this weekend for the annual Black Saints Celebration: Standing Together More info in the flier below!

blackcatholicsNovember is Black Catholic History Month and we certainly have much to celebrate in the New Orleans cultural community. Here are some fun local facts to be proud of this November:

  • In New Orleans, we have the headquarters of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary. Formed in 1909, this is the oldest black Catholic fraternal organization in the nation.
  • Louisiana’s Xavier University is the only black Catholic university in the U.S. It is also the only university in the U.S. founded by a saint, St. Katharine Drexel. Also, Xavier is home to the Institute of Black Catholic Studies, where students from around the world come to study how to minister to their own communities.
  • Our Catholic High Schools that serve the black community are truly a gift including St. Katharine Drexel Prep., St. Mary’s Academy and St. Augustine High School.
  • Today in the U.S., there are four black Catholics whose causes are moving forward for canonization: Venerable Pierre Toussant, Archdiocese of New York; Mother Mary Lange, Archdiocese of Baltimore; Fr. Augustus Tolton, Archdiocese of Chicago; and our own Venerable Henriette Delille, Archdiocese of New Orleans.
  • Read about more contributions in the new “Black Catholic History Facts” section of Office of Black Catholic Ministries website.

Yes, we have much to celebrate, but in looking forward, I pose these questions to you: Are we done?  Do we have more to do? As we read our local and national headlines and look at the continuing struggles of so many of our brothers and sisters, I say our voices, our prayers and our continued work as one family united by our faith, our city and our universal Church.

We have more to do, family! This November and beyond, I challenge you to keep the faith alive, step outside your church walls and bring the love of Jesus into the streets! This is what Jesus did and this is also what Pope Francis consistently reminds us to do. As we also commemorate the 30th Anniversary of “What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization from the Black Bishops of the United States,” lets continue to speak and act courageously, to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Yes, our faith and culture are living gifts! Let’s step up, step out and because there is more to be done!

All are welcome!

All are welcome!

Ansel Augustine is the Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries. He has also served as the Associate Director/Coordinator of Black Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the CYO Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  He is also on the Faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Read more about this blogger here.

Sacred Selfies

Have you been following #VocationsAwarnessWeek? Then, you’ve definitely seen a few of these awesome selfies from NOLA priests and religious! Check out our round up of some of our faves from #nolapriestselfie and #nolasisterselfie! Thanks for celebrating Vocations Week with us! Don’t forget to follow @NOLAvocations on Twitter and check out the new www.NOLApriest.com!

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Tombs and Costumes

By Cory J. Howat

Maybe because it is easy to see our above-ground tombs when you drive down the road. Maybe our Catholic-rich culture in New Orleans wrestles with our existence past our time on this earth a good deal.  Either way, Halloween is a big deal in this city and I would make the assumption it is simply because All Hallows is a big deal in this city. Hear me out…

Everything from French Quarter ghost tours and cemetery tours to Voodoo Fest, people flock to New Orleans to hear about our dead. We even had the Archdiocesan-owned Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 make news because the restoration work on Marie Laveau’s tomb was to be completed on Halloween. People are intrigued by death here and everywhere… for centuries.

Many people, unfortunately, have lost the deep connection between Halloween to a coming weekend of Catholic feasts though. Maybe we can help change that tide. You see, Halloween only falls on the last day of October because All Saints Day, or “All Hallows,” falls on November 1st. All Saints Day is our wonderful feast in honor of all the saints in heaven, known or unknown. As in many Church feasts, you can celebrate the night before, or on the Eve. So, the day before was the feast’s evening vigil, “All Hallows Even,” or “Hallowe’en.” The day after All Saints Day is known as All Souls Day. This was a day of prayer for the souls of all the faithful departed.

All Saints/All Soul's day family visits.

All Saints/All Soul’s day family visits.

So you may ask what is the connection? In New Orleans, family can be a big deal. I love the degrees of separation in this city between a stranger and a relative and family experiences help make up half my stories. My family is definitely a big part of who I am. Part of this connection to family was developed over many years that my parents and many parents across the south-Louisiana area took their children to the tombs of their ancestors on All Saints Day. Here, they told stories of love and laughter from memory and used the visit to pass on the deep connection to our Catholic faith. If you can imagine, for many years, stories were the only way the faith was passed along to younger generations. Visiting the tombs and bringing flowers to my grandparents on All Saints Day was just as part of my life as trick or treating. Some things never change.

"All Hallows Puppy Dog" - my youngest this Halloween.

“All Hallows Puppy Dog” – my youngest this Halloween.

So, to all you Catholic parents out there. Enjoy the trick or treating this evening. Know that this special time when the kids get IVs of sugar and dress in adorable or sometimes scary costumes that the family time is to be cherished like no other. But please don’t let it end there. Wake up the next day and join in the generations, go dust off the family tomb, bring some flowers, tell some stories and dive into the richness of our Catholic faith! Say a prayer of thanks for all those that have gone before us to make our lives possible. Take in the tombs along with the costumes!

Don’t let anyone try to suppress your KitKat addiction by stopping the trick or treating, instead, teach up the whole Christian significance and make this weekend of Feasts a deep familial connection to all the saints and souls!

Oh, and after that road win last night, we can’t forget the other Saints that were purposefully formed and named on the Solemnity of All Saints, Happy 48th Birthday WhoDats!

Cory J. Howat is the Director of Stewardship for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  His love for traveling, culture and adventure provide a unique perspective on life and the universal Church. For more about this blogger, click here.

From Rosary Beads to Rosary App

Fr. Deogratias Ekisa

Karen’s recent piece on saying the rosary during her commute prompted me to share my own experience of reciting the rosary. Also, October is the month of Our Lady of the Rosary!

My first memorable experience of the rosary comes from when I attended a Catholic boys’ boarding school in Uganda for my sixth grade. Like many other schools in Uganda, ours did not have electricity. The school, however, provided a pressure lamp to enable us do our homework at night. And so all 60 or so pupils hurdled around this lamp to do our preps (Check out the video below and you can see what a pressure lamp looks like). But to save on kerosene, the lamp was lit only for two hours each night. So we had about 30 minutes in the dark, with nothing to do between supper and prep.
Imagine doing your school work every night huddled around a light like this!

A few of us decided to use that time to say the rosary. And so, we would gather in the school courtyard, squatting on the ground and say the rosary; some had crude rosary beads made from seeds, others had no rosaries so that their 10 fingers served the purpose (thankfully we all had ten fingers each). And for each decade we prayed in a special way for things that twelve and thirteen year-old school kids pray for: to do well in our exams, for better food, for our parents, for our teachers, for the sick etc. Gradually more and more pupils began to join us in reciting the rosary. After a year or so the school administration decided to add the recitation of the rosary to the daily timetable, confirming the African saying, that sometimes the children will beat the drum and the adults will dance to its beat.

Later on in my life I have recited the rosary with all kinds of rosary beads, including a nice ordination gift from an old nun, as well as a rosary blessed by the Pope. I have also used a ring rosary, which is quite helpful if you want to pray as Jesus teaches, without showing off.

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Are you old enough to remember what this is?

When I began to drive, like Karen, I would say the rosary in the car. That was easier to do if one had at least one passenger in the car. Then a friend gave me a cassette tape (for those who do not remember what these are, click here.) I eventually graduated to a CD (compact disc) and even downloaded some MP3 files to use on an MP3 player.

My technological journey has recently introduced me to a rosary app. I will not even attempt to suggest any particular app, as there are so many good ones. I picked one that was multilingual, because last summer, I was learning Spanish and wanted to say the rosary in Spanish while I walked to language school every day. After I installed that app on my phone, I was able to pray the rosary along with the beautiful voices on the app, and also learned how to pray the rosary in Spanish.

Unlike the liturgy which has more precise norms and instructions, devotions like the rosary have lots of flexibility. This flexibility allows the people of God, to pray in the most appropriate way they can. And so, whether the technology is crude or advanced, whether the circumstances are simple or solemn, one can pray this beautiful devotion of the Church. You can pray with fingers or rosary beads, with a cassette tape or an app. You can pray the rosary in a remote village under the moonlight or in St. Peter’s Basilica under Michelangelo’s paintings. You can pray walking to school or driving to work. However you do it, what is important is that you pray to Christ with the Blessed Mother!

May we renew our veneration of the Blessed Mother and our devotion to her Son, during this month of Rosary!

deogratiaFr. Deogratias O. Ekisa is the Vice Rector, Director of Human Formation, Chair and Professor of Sacramental-Liturgical Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. A priest of the Archdiocese of Tororo – Uganda, Fr. Deo was ordained in 1998 after his seminary studies at Notre Dame Seminary.  He is also the Director of Seminarians for the Tororo seminarians studying at NDS. Fr. Deo hopes to bring to Notre Dame Seminary the experience of the African Church and culture. Read more about this blogger on our Author page.