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Issue Date:  November 23, 2007

Grateful for our 'big tent'

It is hard to imagine someone who is grateful also being mean-spirited, bitter or cranky. In fact, most virtues, real and social, go well with gratitude, because it is one of those deep, foundational dispositions that shapes up the whole character. Cicero, the gold standard for eloquence, called gratitude not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

Why is this so? Perhaps because a grateful heart must also be grounded in a general view of life that sees existence itself as a gift, and anything after that -- including what is difficult and even disastrous -- as a potential blessing. Everything is a gift. One person’s bad day becomes another person’s learning curve. Gratitude disposes us to hope, even when the facts may be stacked against us. “Thank you” is the perfect prayer not only for things received but also for good things that may come.

We use this page regularly to examine flaws -- in institutions sacred and secular -- and make what attempts we can to call to accountability leaders in both realms.

We have been, admittedly, on the underdog’s side of many contentious issues -- from war to the environment, liturgical reform to episcopal arrogance. In the spirit of the day, we’re grateful for the opportunity and the freedom to engage the public discourse in those ways.

Grateful, yes. It is fitting to take some time and a bit of space here to join the spirit of the day, to say thanks amid the tensions of debate and disagreement, for life itself, for this community called Catholic, for the opportunity to puzzle through what life in this new century throws at us.

The image of the Thanksgiving table -- and there is no attempt here to engage in civil religion -- has been used effectively to portray the “big tent” notion of Catholic Christianity. So there, gathered for at least a day, is the grumpy uncle, the disagreeable cousin, the brothers holding views on opposite ends of the political spectrum, the Latin Mass aunt and her sister, the post-modern, inter-religious seeker of a nun. And they’ll all find something to be grateful for. Not a bad image. Graciousness, after all, is a logical twin to gratitude.

Maybe, in the real world, it’s not a realistic tableau for more than a meal’s time. But in little steps we learn to live, gratefully, within the tensions of competing convictions.

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2007

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