February 5, 2023 Essay: Becoming Better Versions of Ourselves
As the director of IREP, our Interparish Religious Education Program, I have the opportunity to be in the classroom teaching our students ranging in ages from 5-15 at various intervals during the school year. Last week while teaching a 5th-grade class in the grammar school, I came across a sign in the classroom which read:
What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?
This question became the focus of our 5th-grade class discussion and a talking point in the Youth Group last Saturday evening. The concept of only having what we were thankful for was profound for each age group, truly giving the students and the leaders at Youth Group pause. As a group, we began to ask ourselves and one another: when and how often do we demonstrate our gratitude, what blessings do we take for granted, and why aren’t we more grateful? This question guided us to in-depth theological talking points, and our dedication to being grateful was revivified.
Much of what I learned about gratitude I gleaned from my Uncle Frank, who served as my mentor, an older brother figure, and, in some ways, a father figure. He was only nine years my senior, and we grew up together. I followed in Frank’s footsteps graduating from his alma maters of Siena College and Yale Divinity School. In the final year of his life, 2019, I taught theology with him and in his place at Canterbury School in Connecticut.
Frank’s faith was larger than life. He would sit for hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, waiting for inspiration and saying thank you. Frank’s life was dedicated to service, and he was the epitome of gratitude. During his 60 years, he was a mentor, a teacher, a deacon, a basketball coach, a lacrosse coach, and a football coach. Frank had been injured while playing football as a senior at Siena College and lived 39 years of his life as a quadriplegic. I had the privilege of living with my Uncle Frank and my grandmother during high school, where I learned how to truly be of service. I began to comprehend that giving is a pivotal way to experience wholeness and purpose while simultaneously giving glory to God. Frank needed plenty of assistance to do the daily tasks we take for granted, yet helping him was a gift. He was a joyful and uplifting person even though he had more reason than most to be resentful and frustrated. His attitude was contagious. You could not tell who was gaining more from the interactions.
In Isaiah today, we read the action of giving is the salve that heals our wounds. Jesus states in Matthew’s Gospel: your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
Each of these readings makes clear we are called to serve, and service has symbiotic qualities. As we truly acknowledge the grace of our existence and its profound blessings with sincere gratitude, our light shines through our commitment to helping others. Our actions become our prayer of thanks, and through our giving, the world becomes imbued with heavenly light. In these exchanges, we live to our fullest human potential.
I leave you with Frank’s motto: Service makes you powerful, gratitude makes you invincible. Why not adopt this motto so we, too, become better versions of ourselves and glorify our maker?
— Kate Noonan, Director of the Interparish Religious Education Program