Gratitude Is Looking Backward and Forward

Fr. Julian Peters, OSB
Thursday, June 22, 2023

Note: Fr. Julian reflected on gratitude in an annual report published earlier this month for The Einsiedeln Society, a Saint Meinrad donor recognition society.

There is a wonderful novel about a monastery of Benedictine nuns in England titled InThis House of Brede by Rumer Godden. It was made into a movie in the 1970s, and it has been one of my personal favorites for the past 30-some years.

One poignant scene has the Lady Abbess giving a consoling word to one of the nuns: "When everything seems too much for you, go down to the bottom of the garden, and turn, and look back up here at Brede, riding against the sky like a great proud ship, and think of all of us within, think of those who were here 100 years ago, and those who will be here 100 years from now, this long unbroken line of care and companionship.…"

Then toward the end of the movie (seemingly some years later), that same nun is departing to be part of a foundation in Japan, and she tells the Lady Abbess: "I hope that it will be just enough like Brede that in a hundred years our Japanese sisters can go to the bottom of the garden and turn, and feel this unspeakable pride and gratitude, a sense of belonging, not just in the House, in the world."

When I was asked to reflect on gratitude with regard to my vocation as a Christian, as a monk of Saint Meinrad and a priest of the Church, I immediately thought of these scenes from In This House of Brede. For one thing, to me, gratitude is a lot about remembering. It's about remembering all those who have loved me into being - family and friends who have helped to make me who I am today.

It's about remembering my maternal grandmother, who used to take me to church with her and instilled in me a love for cooking and baking. It's about remembering the stories of ancestors in the faith and forebearers on the Hill whose legacy I have been called to share.

It's remembering my confrere Br. David Petry, who when I (as a young monk) complained about some work, simply said, "Brother, sometimes we have to do things we don't like to do." Meanwhile, he himself was in the end stages of liver cancer.

It's remembering that I am part of something much bigger than myself, my world, my immediate concerns and circumstances.

But gratitude isn't all wrapped up with the past; it is very much connected to the present. It's about being mindful of those who accompany and support me now through my "middle years." I'm fortunate to still have both my parents in this life, and a little sister who has grown up to be a great friend.

It's about acknowledging the people who touch my life in so many different ways - some very constant and personal, others more removed and occasional. There's the nurse I worked with during my Clinical Pastoral Education over 25 years ago who still calls me to get together for coffee, and the parish secretary who "took care of me" on a weekend assignment.

It's about understanding that people who are in my life today are part of the unfolding of God's mysterious plan, whether they be friend or foe. Simply saying "thank you" for the people and the resources that make it possible for me to be who I am today, doing what I do.

And for me, gratitude is forward looking, about promise and possibility. It's knowing that there will be others to follow me - in the world, in the Church and at Saint Meinrad - who will carry on where I leave off, building on what I've done, transforming it to meet the challenges of their day. It's the seminarians who I hope will be better priests than I have ever been, and the young monks plodding through my Latin class.

Like so many things in life, gratitude is a dynamic that can wax and wane. I'm not always so mindful of all the graces operative in my life. Sometimes I need to stop, and remember to remember.

So when things seem too much for me, I walk down by the lakes, and I turn and look up at the Saint Meinrad complex, riding against the sky like a great proud ship. And I connect with that sense of belonging, that feeling of unspeakable pride and gratitude - for all that has been, all that is and that which is yet to be.