As Thanksgiving draws near, I find myself thinking about the various people and things for which I am thankful. Identifying the good and being grateful for it keeps me grounded. It keeps me from distorting the bad or wallowing in it. God might not, as Fr. Brian J. Lehane, S.J., suggests, “want us always to be saying ‘thank you’.”  But he does want us “to be noticing how much we are loved and cared for by Him and, in turn, respond[ing] by living a life of gratitude.”
A life of gratitude. Isn’t that what Pope Francis lives, models and asks of us as well? It is not surprising that Pope Francis, formed in Ignatian tradition, approaches his ministry with a sense of gratitude. We can see this in how he greets each person who approaches him in his travels, how he seeks out the most vulnerable to remind them that their lives have as much dignity as anyone’s life, and how he has prioritized caring for creation in Laudato Si’: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
But in the two years since publication of Laudato Si’, it feels as if the world has hardened toward the earth and its inhabitants. Nativist groups no longer lurk in the shadows, but openly shout their messages of hate and violence. Politicians seem singularly focused on withdrawing healthcare and support from the poorest among us. Wars rage. Nations shut their borders to desperate refugees. Even the climate seems to be flexing its muscle with a series of wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes; many of these events hit the most vulnerable.
But being surrounded by a hardening world does not mean we have to be hard. Now more than ever, the light of Christ is needed. For me, connecting with that light comes most easily when focusing on what I am grateful for each day, using the Ignatian Examen as a way to encounter that gratitude. It’s “a simple life-changing prayer,” as Jim Manney says.
It first asks you to review your day and to discern within it the people and things for which you are grateful. Before your thoughts turn to where you might have strayed, you intentionally identify things that made you happy. It sounds so simple. But too often we fail to notice, really notice, the things that make us happy: the help of a co-worker, a woman walking the largest and smallest dogs I’ve ever seen at the same time, a clear blue sky, or a comforting shoulder in a moment of sorrow.
Calling these things to the top of my mind and saying thank you for them helps remind me just how real Christ’s presence is in my day. What is more important, it helps me be more generous with my actions, maybe offering that shoulder or helping another co-worker the next day. It also grounds me in my faith. I am grateful not for these lovely moments in and of themselves, but because Christ is in them. Christ walks with me every day. Not just with me, though, but with everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable who are suffering most right now. And as His hands and feet on earth, I must also walk with them.
Gratitude is no small thing. It can help us soften and brighten the world.
 Brian J. Lehane, S.J., “Attitude of Gratitude: The Examen of Prayer of St. Ignatius,” Partners, March 2011, available at http://www.jesuits-chgdet.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partners_FA09.Sprituality.pdf.
 Pope Francis, Papal Audience, 3, May 21, 2014, available at http://http/www.news.va/en/news/pope-at-audience-if-we-destroy-creation-it-will-de.
 Jim Manney, A Simple Life-Changing Prayer (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2011).