... when we are upset that the turkey is a little dry or there is not enough gravy, we must ask ourselves, is that the right attitude?
Have you ever been to Buffalo in November?
Ok, I suspect the majority of people reading this will answer in the negative, but I can tell you it was a November day in Buffalo that forever changed my perspective.
After graduating from college, I had the choice of working for an international consulting firm or moving to Buffalo, New York, where I knew no one could make 50 percent less money than the consulting firm offered me. The choice was obvious -- move to Buffalo.
I moved to Buffalo to work at the Jesuit high school in the city, Canisius High School. Moving out to Buffalo in June, I could not understand what people were talking about regarding the weather. It was sunny all of the time, the lake was beautiful and there was much to explore in the region. In September, the school year started, life filled the school buildings and I was more than happy with my decision to move to Buffalo; that is until I realized that the clouds roll into Buffalo in October and the sun does not return until May.
By mid-November, I was ready to get out of town for the Thanksgiving break, hop on the New York thruway, set my cruise control and be home in a reasonable seven hours. The one thing between me and the open road was the Thanksgiving liturgy.
About 900 boys crammed into the auditorium that afternoon and the new, young Jesuit priest, an alumnus of the school from just a few years back, was the celebrant. After the Gospel, the priest began with this question, "Do you have an attitude of gratitude or an attitude of entitlement?" He had my attention and he had the attention of 900 boys.
He went through anecdotes from the life of a high school student, the life of the family and the life of work. He asked us all to think about the lens through which we look at the world. Are we grateful for all of the gifts that God has given us?
The warmth of the heat in a cold Buffalo winter or being with family over the Thanksgiving holiday; are we grateful for these blessings or have we come to expect them and now feel entitled to them? He reminded us that there are many for whom affording heat is a challenge and it may mean sacrificing a nutritious dinner or using extra blankets because there is not much oil left in the tank and filling it is just too costly. For many, the idea of a full turkey dinner with family and friends is the thing of movies and television shows, not of reality. So when we are upset that the turkey is a little dry or there is not enough gravy, we must ask ourselves, is that the right attitude? Are we grateful for all we have or do we get upset when we do not get what we think we deserve?
A few years back, the student speaker at the Inner-City Scholarship Fund Dinner shared his speech with me prior to the event for feedback. In his remarks, he recalled how he was living in a refugee camp after fleeing civil war in the Congo and how it was "inconvenient" to walk a mile to get fresh water twice a day. He was not complaining, he was simply putting context to his daily life. The rest of his remarks spoke of gratitude and appreciation to God, his family and the opportunities afforded to him in the United States, especially his Catholic education. He did not feel entitled to fresh, running water, a stable government, or even a family that was intact. No, he was grateful for all of those things because he understood that they are gifts.
The Catholic Schools Foundation provides over 4,100 students each year the opportunity to attend a Catholic school. Each of these students is grateful for their Catholic education because they know that, without the support of the Catholic Schools Foundation, their education would not be possible. A quality education is not something to which they are entitled; it is something for which they are grateful. Something for which their families sacrifice because they know it will change their lives.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we do so with gratitude for the students and families we serve, the teachers and administrators with whom we partner and our generous supporters who believe in providing access to a quality Catholic education.
Advent will soon be here and as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, the message I heard a few decades ago still resonates today and is worthy of reflection, "Do we have an attitude of gratitude or an attitude of entitlement?"
Let us pray for gratitude this season.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.