November 23, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We can be thankful for more than the usual suspects

Cynthia DewesIt’s that Thankful Time again, which leads us to reflect on what we’re grateful for … or not.

Of course, we’re all thankful for good health or a good job—or even just for being alive and having a job. We’re thankful for our loved ones and friends, and all the usual suspects, but how often do we consider the importance of the other gratifying facts of our lives?

One thing that I’m eternally grateful for is Vatican Council II. It seemed to me then and now that the council was a clear sign of the Holy Spirit at work in human history.

At the time, I suspected that the Church was heading down a rather narrow, exclusivist and self-righteous path involving some members who favored a kind of “imperial priesthood.” It seemed to me totally alien to Christ’s message.

I feared that this rigid attitude, which appeared to be purposely unaware of the world in which we actually lived, would prevent the Church from serving her mission of establishing God’s kingdom here on Earth. What Vatican II proposed was definitely less dependent upon the comfort of following rules, and thus seemed scary and uncomfortable for many members of the imperfect faithful like me.

Among other things, Vatican II and the popes who led us at the time urged more meaningful participation in the Church’s mission by lay Catholics, including women. Stress was to be laid on individual conscience determining personal behavior, rather than mandatory adherence to a set of rules. The popular bad joke of that time about the laity’s only duty being to “pay, pray and obey” was now obsolete.

And while I am not thankful for some of the excesses created by Vatican II’s emphasis on individual spiritual responsibility, I’m hopeful that the Holy Spirit will keep on bailing us out and restoring us to the right track.

Another thing for which I’ve always been thankful is that I am a woman, especially a woman born in the U.S. in interesting times.

Despite all the revisionist history that prevails these days, I maintain that many women never felt like second-class citizens because they were female back in the bad old 1950s.

Considering how women are treated even today in some cultures, I’m especially grateful. I’ve never felt a need to dumb-down or keep still or take a back seat because of my gender. Not only that, I actually enjoy the stuff that women supposedly do best—like loving men, having babies and even cleaning house once in a while.

Speaking of love, loving my work is another thing for which I’m very grateful.

Fortunately, since I’m an old English major along the lines of Garrison Keillor’s beloved English majors, I’ve discovered the right business for me in writing. But even when I’ve had other jobs less to my liking, I always found something to enjoy about them—the people I worked with, the learning of new things, or just the satisfaction of being able to do the work.

I’m also thankful for so many things over which I have no control—like good genes and inborn optimism. And I’m grateful for the many opportunities I’ve been given for new experiences, widespread travel and the insights gained in meeting all kinds of people.

Perhaps most of all, I’m thankful for my faith in the good God who made it all possible. It’s truly a time for Thanksgiving, and I’m so glad that the Pilgrims thought it up and made it part of our national culture.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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