A Thanksgiving Reflection
With Humble Hearts, Let Us Remember the Source of Our Blessings
By Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday October 3, 1863, he made a telling reflection. “The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” he proclaimed. But he also noted that “these bounties … are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”
How well Lincoln understood human nature – when life is going well, don’t we all tend to take things for granted, forgetting the source of our blessings?
Saint Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, never forgot the source from which her blessings came. She had a deeply grateful heart in both good times and bad, repeating the same refrain in every circumstance: “We must always say ‘Blessed be God! Thank you, my God! Glory be to God!’ ” At the end of her life she would say, “God has always blessed me because I have greatly thanked his Providence.”
Jeanne Jugan taught the first Little Sisters to express their gratitude to their benefactors by daily praying for them. A Little Sister who was close to Saint Jeanne said that “When she spoke about the benefactors, you could feel that she had, as it were, a cult of gratitude; and all those who helped her had a large part in her prayers.”
What was most striking about this “cult of gratitude” was that it extended even to those who did not, or could not, help her. Another Little Sister left this charming anecdote from her childhood: “What struck me most forcefully, when Jeanne used to come to my father’s house, was her gratitude, her way of saying thank you and her calm expression, whether people gave or refused. ‘Jeanne,’ I would say, ‘Mummy has sent me to tell you that there is nothing for you today, neither desserts, nor leftovers. Nothing at all.’ … ‘Very well, thank you, miss, thank you all the same. That will be for another time. Thank your Mummy kindly. I know she would like to fill my basket if she could.’ When she left, she could not have looked any happier than if she had obtained a fortune.”
What was at the heart of Saint Jeanne’s spirit of gratitude? Humility. A grateful heart is born of a humble soul. As a young woman Jeanne Jugan was formed in the French school of spirituality, which puts a great emphasis on the majesty of God and the nothingness of creatures. But the recognition of our nothingness need not lead to a sense of humiliation or despair. God is All and we are nothing – without him.
The good news is that God longs to fill us with his gifts. Everything we have and are is a gift from a God who loves us without measure. Speaking of God’s generosity, St. Ignatius of Loyola once wrote to a friend that “We will sooner tire of receiving his gifts than he of giving them.”
Jeanne Jugan believed that without God we are nothing, but with him, and thanks to his boundless gifts, all is possible. She knew, as the apostle wrote, that “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 3:17). We Little Sisters often sing these words in a popular hymn which concludes, “All that we can offer, your boundless love imparts; the gifts to you most pleasing are humble, thankful hearts.”
As we gather with our loved ones this Thanksgiving, let’s prove President Lincoln wrong. Before passing the turkey let’s take a few moments to reflect on our blessings and thank the Source from whom they come. Saint Jeanne Jugan will teach us the song of a humble, thankful heart as we say with her, “Blessed be God! Thank you, my God! Glory be to God!”
Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p., is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States.