The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes five basic types of prayer: adoration, petition, intercession, praise and thanksgiving. As our national celebration of Thanksgiving occurs this Thursday, it seems fitting to reflect on the form of prayer that most closely correlates with it.
The prayer of thanksgiving is, quite simply, the expressed recognition of God’s goodness to us. In order to engage in this prayer, therefore, it is always necessary to take time to reflect upon the blessings which we have received. As a nation, we are given this opportunity in a special way every year on the fourth Thursday of November.
Throughout the country, people will be pausing to recall the good things in their lives. They will reflect upon the gift of family and friends, food and shelter, work and leisure, and all the other personal blessings they have received. Christians in particular will add to this the gift of faith and the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus. In faith and hope, having thus recalled God’s goodness, we can then enter into the prayer of thanksgiving. We express gratitude for God’s graciousness to us.
However, as Catholics, there is an even deeper expression of thanksgiving that we can render unto God. That is, we thank him even for those things which we have found unpleasant or difficult—sickness and loss, financial difficulties and emotional distress, difficult relationships and uncertain futures. In these situations, we do not express our thanks for the suffering itself. Rather, our thanks is an expression of our absolute faith and confidence in God that in the midst of the most trying aspects of our lives, we know that his hand mysteriously and providentially guides us into a deeper union with Him. We are thankful that in our darkest times, his goodness gives us the confidence to praise.
A beautiful expression of this is found in a contemporary Christian song written by Casting Crowns:
I was sure by now, God, you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!