Posted by: mmreflections | January 10, 2009

Sing to the Lord a New Song: January, 2009

Over and over again I had been reminded of the importance of being grateful for all the blessings I had received throughout the years from God.  The Psalms are filled with calls for us to praise the Lord and to offer thanksgiving from our hearts.  I struggled to praise and thank God in life situations that were painful, fearful, confusing and seemingly hopeless.  Often the words of St. Paul would touch my heart, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who have been called according to his decree.” (Romans 8:28)  In spite of my best efforts it seems the words of praise and thanksgiving were forced and came from my head not my heart.  Often the words of gratitude came out tinged with resentment or annoyance.  At best, they were only words.

Three years ago I found myself struggling with an onset of medical challenges which began with a loss of energy, weight and strength combined with difficulty in swallowing and breathing.  Within a short period of time my health had deteriorated to the point where I was hospitalized and admitted to an Intensive Care Unit where I was to remain on a respirator for approximately two months.  There was little hope I would survive as the doctors struggled to save my life.  I could no longer pray the way in which I had become accustomed.  I could not speak because of being on a respirator.  I could not read since my eyesight was impaired.  I could not hear well since my hearing was also impaired.  I could only lay helplessly upon the bed while others attended to my every need.  It was hard to believe that a few months earlier I had been a picture of health, exercising regularly, very health conscious, eating healthy foods and enjoying life. 

One night as I lay awake reflecting upon my relationship with God, I found myself praying deep within my heart.  I found myself reminding the Lord of how over the forty three years of priestly service I taught the people I was called to serve about his great and unconditional love for all of us.  I asked God where that great love was now at this moment of my own life’s journey as I lay helplessly on my bed.  I immediately felt in my heart God telling me to open my eyes and see this great unconditional love all around me.  In the hours and days that followed my eyes opened to see this great unconditional love manifested in the nurses that were attending to all my needs, in the doctors examining me, in the janitor who came every morning to empty the wastebaskets and remind me of all the people at his church praying for my recovery, in the gentle lady who would quietly clean my room and smile at me as she came near the bed, in the cards wishing me well and coming from all across the country, in the promise of prayers being offered around the world, in the brother priests and religious sisters who would show up at just the right time during those long days and nights.  I was overwhelmed at the realization of God’s love and found myself silently praising and thanking God from that moment on.  Now the praise and thanksgiving is coming from my heart and continues as I appreciate God’s love in the gift of every new day, in every step I take, in every bite of food, in every person I meet, in the beauty of nature surrounding me and in the precious gift of life which we all share.

 For me gratitude became the next rung on the spiritual ladder which evolved as I began to experience the manifestation of this great unconditional love God had for me and the abundance with which I had been blessed. This love and abundance was always present in my life situations but for so much of my life I was not consciously aware of it.  I guess I just took so much for granted.  I was so caught up in the demands of the world and what others expected of me that I had forgotten what God expected of me. I had been so caught up in all the fears, anxieties, worries, problems, frustrations, wounds and personal demands made upon me that I was not paying attention to the many blessings in my life and the abundance which surrounded me.  As painful and uncomfortable as the medical challenges had been for me I discovered most concretely how God does indeed draw good out of all things for those who love him.  What a great blessing!  “I will praise you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.”  (Psalm 30:1)

The Sacred Scriptures are filled with reminders of how pleasing it is to offer  God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  “Offer to God praise as your sacrifice, then call upon me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”  (Psalm 50:14-15)    “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”  (Psalm 50: 22-23)  “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to him with psalms of praise.”  (Psalm 95:2 “Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his works with joyful singing.” (Psalm 107:22)  In order to offer a true sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise as described in these words, we need to remember this is the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Just as progressing in love is the work of the Holy Spirit so is the progressing in gratitude.  Our efforts to be truly grateful can be very easily diminished if we try to force ourselves by sheer will power to offer words of thanksgiving and praise only because we feel obligated to do so.  This gratitude which for me is the next rung of the spiritual ladder will express itself in true praise and thanksgiving coming from our hearts almost as naturally as breathing.  If it does not come from the heart it may only be a way of trying to manipulate God.  Our attitude could be if I am thanking and praising God in my prayers he will give me what I want or feel I need.   Gratitude on the higher level does not seek anything other than to express sincere thanks for the abundance we already have.  As we come to the realization of the incredible abundance we already have in our lives, praise and thanksgiving will be forever on our lips and in our hearts.  I believe the sign indicating that our gratitude is sincere will be a deeper experience of the fruits of the Holy Spirit which is described by St. Paul and was included in our previous “Reflection.” “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Our energy will not be wasted on looking for or lusting after the things we do not have but will be spent in expressing gratitude for what we do have.

No one needs to be reminded of what the current conditions are in the world, our nation, our families and our personal lives.  The media is bombarding us with the problems facing all of us today.  These are the moments when our faith in God can be greatly challenged.  We may be questioning how all these difficulties can be permitted by an all-loving God.  We cannot deny the current situations that surround us but we can decide how we are going to live our lives in the midst of all the problems.  Living on the lower rungs of the spiritual ladder is characterized, as I have repeatedly described, by fear, worry, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, resentment and hostility.  Does this solve any of the problems?  Is this how we want to live?  Do we help bring about the kingdom of God by living this way?  In our previous reflection we were reminded that loving in the way Jesus taught us and learning to accept situations over which we have no control brings us peace and joy.  The fifth rung which I call the gratitude level increases our experience of the peace and happiness God intended for us.  There are great blessings for us as we learn to praise and thank God in the midst of all our life situations.  For me this is living on and basking in the abundance level of life.  

“Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.  Let us greet him with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.   For the Lord is a great God…..”  (Psalm 95:1-3)

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