This past Christmas, one of the cards I received included a printed letter that came from longtime friends, folks I’ve known for nearly fifty years. I had met the family in a parish where I served, and I had assisted them during an especially difficult time in their lives. They’ve kept in touch with me at Christmas ever since.
The Christmas letter described the challenges the family had experienced during the past year including: their adult children having their livelihoods interrupted by the coronavirus, while also trying to monitor their kids being “virtually educated” at home; two young grandchildren who were hospitalized with serious illness; and the letter writers themselves, both in their eighties, suffering horribly from the virus.
But at the end of the letter, my friends wrote: “Every minute of every day we give thanks to God for his goodness and mercy. I didn’t write this letter as a ‘saga’ for you to feel badly, only to let you know how truly blessed we have been and the strength that you find that you never knew you possessed.”
“We give thanks to God . . . how truly blessed we have been . . . the strength that you find that you never knew you possessed.” I was amazed by this marvelous expression of faith from these good folks who had experienced so much in the past year, challenges that would have surely led lesser souls to turn away from God in anger and despair. In reading their words I thought of what Pope Francis has described as the “saints next door.”
Our Holy Father expanded on this theme in a recent audience. He said: “The prayer of praise must be practiced not only when life fills us with happiness, but above all in difficult moments, in moments of darkness when the path becomes an uphill climb . . . Giving praise is like breathing pure oxygen; it purifies the soul; it makes you look far ahead so as not to remain imprisoned in the difficult moment.”
You see, it’s pretty easy to praise and thank God when things are going well, although we don’t do that nearly often enough either. But the ability to praise and thank God in the midst of the storm is a rare quality, surely a sign of remarkable holiness.
Something to think about: Do you know people who are the “saints next door?” Or maybe, even, that’s you!