By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series
Once a month, the boys of Catholic Central gather for an all-school Mass, often celebrating one of our many patrons. Being that the school mascot is the shamrock, St. Patrick was a significant day of celebration, and so I was surprised that our local superior chose one of our retired priests, who is very rarely at the school (and who the students do not know), to preside over the celebration.
Throughout the Mass, it was quite evident that this man was moved by the opportunity to be a priest and teacher to the students once again. Tears of joy rolled down his face at the end of the homily, causing many of us to take notice. And his words of wisdom opened a window of time for all those who never knew him as a physics teacher.
Early the next day, I saw this priest in one of our common rooms at the house and thanked him for his words, citing a few specific nuggets that I found particularly meaningful. To this he responded that I was the first of the priests to thank him or comment on his homily. I paused. I was immediately saddened that no one else had taken the time to say “thank you.”
I have often wondered why praise and gratitude is so hard to come by. Why are we so quick to criticize and so slow to affirm?
Growing up, my father and I called such affirmations “warm fuzzies” and often solicited them from each other. Some might recall that stores used to sell little fuzzy balls with bubbly eyes, feet and a positive message on them such as “You’re Terrific” or “Great Job!” My father often came home from work a bit envious of us, as kids, because our teachers would give them out on special occasions. He jokingly commented that we should give “warm fuzzies” out to everyone, not just kids. To this day, the two of us will still phone each other and ask for a “warm fuzzy” when the day has been particularly tough.
Perhaps for this reason, I have always believed that gratitude is one of the great secrets of the spiritual life (a secret, not because it is unknown, but because it so hard to implement). Gratitude is the result of a life lived in grace, but it does not come without awareness on our part. Gratitude is not a simple emotion; rather it is a learned discipline to recognize that ALL of life is “gift.”
Sometimes we forget the implicit connection between grace and gratitude. Notice that even the adjective commonly used to describe a grateful person is “gracious.” And I wonder — how often do we used this word to describe those around us, or even ourselves?
Indeed, I was bit saddened when I left the common room that morning, but not simply for my friend. Throughout the day, I reflected on how often I find myself quietly complaining (even if only in my mind) about the events of my day. Yes, I say “thank you” and give God praise each day, but if I were to tally the thoughts of gratitude and thoughts of complaint, I wonder how my sheet would look? I think I will title it “Gracious Living” and see how I do.
Maybe I can even find a few “warm fuzzies”, like the ones I used to get in school, and give them to God. Who knows, next time you come to the parish, you may find one next to the statue of the Sacred Heart or on the staff desks at the office.
Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.