Benedictine monk: Gratitude starts with silent prayer

Missionary Benedictine Father Joel Macul didn’t want to go to Kenya 25 years ago.

Asked by the Catholic Voice to reflect on the importance of gratitude in view of Thanksgiving and how it is lived out in a faith-filled life, Father Macul said the five years he served at a monastery and school near Nairobi had a powerful impact on his life.

It was difficult as a native of Maine to enter into the African world, but he grew to understand a different culture and experience people’s love and generosity in unique ways.

“It was the people, pulling me into their lives,” said Father Macul, who now is serving as prior at the Missionary Benedictine community and retreat center near Schuyler. “Sub-Saharan Africans have a way of pulling people into community.”

Similar feelings of gratitude mark all of his service to the church, Father Macul said, whether it has been at the Missionary Benedictine’s Abbey of Münsterschwarzach in Germany, St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, N.J., or other points along the way.

“All these things I didn’t search for. I took it as an opportunity and a gift,” he said.

As people across the archdiocese and the United States prepare for Thanksgiving Day Nov. 22, often filled with family, feasts and football, Father Macul recommends taking time in silent prayer and gratitude to reflect on God’s many gifts.

“Gratitude starts with silence,” Father Macul said. “I have to be quiet. I have to receive. If I’m receiving something wonderful, I have to be silent about it, provide an openness to what is being given. It can be an event, a person, object or situation. I need to pull back in silence, in gratitude and wonder.”

At one point in his service in Kenya, Father Macul was wracked with back pain. He spent about two months in traction in a hospital. Forced rest. Not working. Seemingly not productive. But his inability to work didn’t matter to the loving people around him, Father Macul said.

“At least you are here,” one monk told him.

It was that simple. Father Macul was present and accounted for. In that culture, it was more than enough, he said.

St. Paul, in his writing to early Christian communities such as Corinth and Galatia, always begins with expressions of gratitude, Father Macul said. For St. Paul and others living the Christian life, gratitude is essential to prayer and humility.

“To me, it’s very basic,” Father Macul said. “Gratitude is at the heart of prayer. It is a deep sense of proper gratitude to God.”

The word “Eucharist” can be translated “gratitude” in Greek, Father Macul said. Jesus gives his body and blood at the Mass, which is the source and summit of the faith.

“The crown and summit is to give thanks,” he said. “The Eucharistic Prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving,” that includes the words, “‘It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.’”

Giving thanks always and in all circumstances includes times of suffering, as well as joy, Father Macul said. All is redeemed by Christ.

As Father Macul prepares for Thanksgiving – with plans this year to be at the abbey in Germany, giving a report on his community in Schuyler – he expects to take time to reflect over the last year and gather up those thoughts into a prayer of thanksgiving.

“Who can I stand in awe of this year, a person, relationship, community?” Father Macul said. “I will have time to reflect on the past year in my life – surprises and new wonders.”

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