At least in my experience, God’s will has not always been easy to discern, even with the assistance of prayer and spiritual direction. Sure, I know the boundaries of moral decision-making. Under no circumstances may I lawfully choose to do evil.
Further, I must fulfill the duties and obligations that go with my state in life. But what exactly does God want me to do? The answer usually isn't black and white. We make what seems to us to be the right choice, and pray that God will bless our sincere desire to do His will and that He will continue to make His will for us known with ever greater clarity.
For this reason, I think that one of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, in which Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
So while we might struggle in discerning our vocation in life, whether to take a certain job, or even how to spend our next vacation, when it comes to giving thanks in other words, manifesting the virtue of gratitude God's will is right there in Scripture for all to see. There's absolutely no mystery or guesswork about it. God explicitly wills that we give thanks in all circumstances.
Many times in Scripture we hear our Lord say something along the lines of “Let those with ears hear.” In other words, He's telling the crowd not simply to let His teachings go in one ear but out the other. I think 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that requires an attentive, meditative disposition if we are truly going to “get it.” In calling Catholics to a renewed study of Scripture, Pope John Paul II emphasizes the transforming power of God's Word when it's truly taken to heart: “It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs, and shapes our lives” (apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 39).
Yet I think all of us today tend to rush through the things we read. We quickly scan emails, newspapers, and websites, and as soon as we get the gist of an item, we're off to the next one. Even when watching the news or a football game, we're continually getting bombarded at the bottom of the screen with headlines, scores of sporting events, or perhaps the weather forecast.
If I'm not careful, when I'm reading Scripture, especially very familiar passages, I mentally say to myself, “Okay, I know this passage,” and then move on. It's a real exercise to have “ears that hear,” to slow down and fully drink in God's Word one verse at a time.
So, while 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is a profound and eminently practical verse, for too long I skimmed over it like last week's headlines. Only when my confessor asked me to meditate on this verse for my penance did it finally stick. And what a difference gratitude makes! It forces us to recognize God's providence at work, even when especially when it's not immediately evident.
The truth is that everything in our lives, even the tragedies, failures, inconveniences, and sufferings, are part of God's plan. He doesn't make mistakes. Everything in our lives affords us an opportunity indeed, sometimes a real challenge to grow in the love of God. Of course, when seemingly bad things happen to us, our first response may not be an expression of gratitude, and even if it is, it may be dripping with sarcasm: “Gee, thanks a lot.”
But make no mistake, God wills that we develop the virtue of perpetual gratitude at least if we want to be happy in this world and, even more, in the next. The Eucharist, as the supreme sacrifice of thanksgiving (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1359-60), continually opens us more fully to God's superabundant gifts. I can see why great saints like the Little Flower, who developed this inner disposition of gratitude, can honestly say, “Nothing disturbs me.”
Truly this complete and loving acceptance of everything as a gift from God is the very foundation of peace. The alternative is rebellion and a surefire recipe for unhappiness.
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is email@example.com.
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