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Living with a grateful heart

Many years ago a missionary friend of mine told me about a beautiful tradition practiced by the people who live in Uganda, East Africa.

From a very young age children are taught to live with grateful hearts. The word they use is “webali” which is an expression of gratitude for all God’s gifts no matter how seemingly insignificant.

For example, any time someone visits another’s home, the host thanks that person for taking the time out of his day to stop by and the guest thanks the host for welcoming him.

Or if someone has a conversation with another, that person thanks her for taking the time to speak and listen to her.

The Ugandan people express their gratitude for every human act of kindness no matter how big or small. It has become part of their culture.

When I heard about this life of appreciation and gratitude it left quite an impression on me, and I believe we can learn a lot from our Ugandan brothers and sisters.

It can be so easy to take our gifts for granted. I know I am sometimes guilty of this. I expect the heat to work when it is cold, that I will have the food I need when I am hungry and I will have health care when I need it.

There are so many things in life I just expect and do not recognize as gifts. It would be good for each of us to develop an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude.

One way we can do this is to spend some quiet time reflecting upon all God has given us, especially those things we often take for granted or just expect.

Why wait until we meet a blind or deaf person to thank God for our gifts of sight and hearing. Or, after we lose a parent, sibling, close friend or relative, we realize we are reminded to be thankful for our families and friends.

Then there are those who serve us that we often neglect to express our thanks and appreciation.

I think of people like the waitresses we encounter when we go out to eat or the cashier who waits on us when we shop. Others might be the secretary or cleaning man at work.

Maybe we never even think about thanking the teachers who educate us or our parents who pay our tuition.

We also need to thank people who give us gifts or invite us to their homes or go out of their way to be kind to us. Perhaps we have an attitude of entitlement rather than gratitude.

A good prayerful reflection I have found helpful is to take some quiet time to thank God for the people, living or dead, for whom I am grateful and, when possible, to express my thanks to them. I find that writing them a real letter, not e-mail, is an effective way to do this. In fact I have even written in my journal to those who have died. After all, they are part of the communion of saints.

Finally, the Mass is the ultimate offering of thanksgiving to God. When we celebrate the Eucharist we give thanks for the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Eucharist means thanksgiving.

Let us live as eucharistic people and, like the Ugandans, let thanksgiving become an attitude in our hearts and a way of life. Let us appreciate all that we have while we have it and not take people and our other gifts for granted.

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