How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done unto me?
The month of November is widely held to be a month of giving thanks in our country. It is therefore fitting that St. Benedict’s virtue of the month for November is gratitude. There are many ways we can foster this virtue in our students. We look for examples of heroic figures who exhibit gratitude in history and literature. We share our gifts by collecting food for the poor. In first grade, we practice gratitude by ending each day of November with a prayer of Thanksgiving. I ask the children to think of a particular blessing received that day and to give thanks for that gift during afternoon prayer.
In practicing any virtue, we can turn to the examples of the saints for guidance. The month of November happens to have several feast days for saints who modeled the virtue of gratitude and charity. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, the first grade focuses on the examples of St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, whose feasts are celebrated on November 16th and 17th. Both saints were queens who were known for their great charity towards the poor and needy. These saints were aware that they could not give what they had not first received. Their sense of gratitude led to their great charity towards others.
I like to tell my students a legend surrounding St. Margaret, in which she teaches the rough men of the Scottish court to say grace before meals. We take the opportunity to reflect on our own blessings and how we give thanks for them. We then turn to the life of St. Elizabeth. She is well known for her charity toward the poor subjects of her kingdom, even though it often invited the scorn of her husband’s family. I ask the students to consider how they can share their blessings with others, as Sts. Margaret and Elizabeth did. I often receive a variety of answers. Some are predictable, “I can share food with the hungry.” or “I can share my toys with less fortunate children.” I’m often surprised and moved, though, to hear more thoughtful answers such as, “I can share the gift of my family by inviting a lonely neighbor over to share a meal.”, “I can share the gift of my faith by teaching someone to pray.”, or “I can share the gift of music by singing to God.”
Though we are grateful for all our blessings, including the material, as Catholics, we must be mindful of our greatest gift. The very summit of all God’s great gifts to us is found in the Eucharist. After asking the students to contemplate all God has given us, we remember that He has given us still far more. He has given His very self, truly present in the Eucharist. The word “Eucharist” itself means “thanksgiving”. When we visit Our Lord in our school chapel, I like to remind the children that the saints are there with us, sharing in our songs of praise to the One who has given us all.
Author: Julia Hieronymus, First Grade Teacher