It is so easy to forget to be grateful. Yet gratefulness is an expression of generosity of spirit, which is so life-giving – both to the giver and to the receiver. I’ve always wanted to add another beatitude – ‘Blessed are you who are generous of spirit, for you will know the generosity of God’.
Recently Peter Saunders, a survivor of sexual abuse from the UK, met Pope Francis in Rome. His account of that meeting was suffused with gratitude, despite having suffered the pain and betrayal of clerical sexual abuse, exacerbated by the disappointment of being let down by bishops who did not acknowledge the damage done to him. Yet here is a man who can express his gratitude to the Holy Father, and trust things will continue to change. He is also able to see, despite his own personal experience, the Church in Britain has made changes for the better.
Francis, himself, is a wonderful example of gratefulness. His life is one long prayer of gratitude – for the merciful call of our Lord to him, a sinner, as expressed in his motto miserando atque eligendo; for the ever-tender gaze of Jesus on all of us; for the faith and discipleship of Our Lady; for the wisdom of the elderly, the enthusiasm of the young and the innocent beauty of children; for those who care for and treasure the disabled; for the example of his namesake, St Francis.
The Pope’s generosity of time, and attention to others, is remarkable. He knows in expressing gratitude to others, we must often apologise. He does this in both grand and in simple ways. His expression of profound regret and sorrow to the sexual abuse victims was matched with his thanks for their courage and gift of love in speaking out about these offences. On another occasion, he met with young men discerning their vocations and thanked them for coming, while apologising for being late as he was having such an interesting conversation with someone he had not noticed the time! Such generosity of spirit is humble, engaging and an expression of joy.
How many things we have to be thankful for – like the privilege of living in a peaceful country, of not experiencing war nor loss of homes on a large scale. And so many things we take for granted – a blue sky; the song of a tui; friends and family; a child’s smile; having a laugh with an old friend. In our gratitude we have to acknowledge there are many, including in this country, who do not have these joyful, everyday experiences. Our gratefulness must be matched by generosity of spirit to those who need it most.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for showing us how we can all do this.