This one daily practice can transform you both spiritually and mentally

Therese Bussen

The Thanksgiving season is usually when we more intentionally think about gratitude — but it often ends with the holiday. While it’s good to remember what we’re thankful for during this this time of year, it’s actually something that that has the potential to change our lives if made into a daily practice, and benefits us both spiritually and psychologically.

So what is gratitude and how can we make it a daily habit?

According to Father Daniel Cardó, pastor at Holy Name Parish, gratitude is much more than just saying thanks — it’s an attitude of the heart.

“Gratitude is an essential disposition because it’s about how we understand life, ourselves, everything,” Father Cardó said. “We can all think of things we didn’t expect that were a gift to us. That surprise is a very profound experience of letting love move our hearts, of truly receiving what is happening. And that is the first step of responding.”

“A good way to be grateful is to be simple, [to remember] that there is a good in what we’re receiving and in the fact that we’re receiving,” he continued. “We can go beyond the gift and think about why we’re given gifts.”

As we practice gratitude, it changes the way we see God, ourselves and others and makes us more aware of how everything in our life is a gift, Father Cardó said.

“Gratitude comes from the way we see God, ourselves and others. If we’re too self-centered, we think everything’s our right,” he explained. “The more we grow in gratitude, the more we see God as a Father and others as our brothers and sisters who, as ourselves, have received everything as a gift. We have to see ourselves as a gift, that’s important.”

Another benefit of gratitude is a shift in perspective when suffering comes our way — instead of despairing, we see that somehow, good still comes during and after difficult times.

“If we’re grateful, we’ll not complain or be scandalized when we suffer. It was good for Job to go through suffering because it made him more grateful,” Father Cardó said. “In Christ, we know he doesn’t send evil, but we know he allows good to come from it when we’re suffering.

“One of the reasons St. Augustine says we don’t have our prayers answered is to expand our desire and grow more,” he continued. “Why are we so scandalized when we suffer? Something amazing happens at one point in Job’s story, and I’m paraphrasing, but he complains at first, but then he said, ‘I knew you only through hearsay but now I see you with my eyes.’”

Changing mental habits

Gratitude doesn’t just benefit us spiritually — it also has huge benefits on our mental health and shifts our attitude toward life psychologically.

“We know spiritually we should be grateful to God, but one of the main benefits psychologically is that being grateful helps us put ourselves in the shoes of another person, that something has been given to us. It makes us realize it’s not all up to us,” said Dr. Jim Langley, psychologist at St. Raphael’s Counseling in Littleton. “Research shows a lot of psychological benefits: People feel less anxiety, less selfish, show less aggression and are more empathetic. When we recognize a gift has been given to us, it makes us more likely to give back to others.”

Dr. Langley pointed out that the human brain is wired to notice more negativity, so the daily practice of noticing good helps us wire ourselves toward positivity.
“Research shows taking a moment to notice the goods in our lives that are small…and being grateful for little things calls us to be more aware of all of the good,” he said.

But starting a gratitude practice from scratch can feel “fake” or “forced” — until the new habit is formed, according to Dr. Langley.

“A new habit always feels forced and fake. The way our brains work is like [having paved] roads. Starting a new habit is like paving a new road and it’s hard and uncomfortable, and then after 30 days it feels normal and natural,” he said. “So you have to fight through that unnaturalness. Once you get over that, it’s part of who you are.”

How to practice it

So how does one practice gratitude daily? Dr. Langley and Father Cardó offered a few simple, helpful tips.

“At the start or end of the day, taking note of the good that’s been done, big things and little things,” Dr. Langley said. “The Examen [a prayer method developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola] is a great one.”

The Examen is a simple prayer with five steps: Asking God for light of understanding, giving thanks, reviewing the day as guided by the Holy Spirit, facing our shortcomings and looking forward to the day to come.

He also recommended intentionally being aware of ways that loved ones are a gift to us, to tell them and thank them for it.

“It’s very easy to take people for granted, especially in family life. Pointing that out to others can be powerful because we all want someone to notice us, so voicing gratitude to another person is saying, ‘I notice you,’” he added. “Part of our job to fellow Christians is to be Christ to one another — when we point it out for other people, we are being Christ to them.”

Father Cardó recommended simple prayers, including the Examen, to grow in a daily practice of gratitude.

“One practical thing is to say a prayer when we wake up and say thank you to God. Or doing the Examen prayer at night for a few minutes reflecting about our day. You can even do it as a family a few minutes before dinner. Those are two simple things,” he said. “Another thing is during Thanksgiving, find time to think about the greatest gifts of our lives and even to write them down. And to give thanks to God for those gifts and to say thank you to those who are gifts to us, to make a call and say thank you.”

Gratitude isn’t something that’s complicated, Father Cardó said. It’s simple, and when we’re simple, we’re more joyful.

“If we’re grateful, we’re going to be more simple. When we get too complicated or expect too much from people, we eliminate the capacity to be surprised,” he concluded. “The more grateful we are, the more simple, the more joyful we will be. If we’re simple, we know God will give us what we need. He promises to give us what we need. Gratitude makes us receive what we need with joy.”

For an Examen prayer card, visit ignatianspirituality.com/19076/examen-prayer-card.

COMING UP: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

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On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.