My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres,
I was flipping through the pages of my prayer journal just the other day, reviewing some notes that I had jotted down for an upcoming presentation on Marianist religious life. And, flipping through my journal, I found tucked away among its pages a card that I had written, probably on Thanksgiving Day of 2020. It listed the fifteen things for which I was most grateful. I listed the Marianist Community to which I belong, as well as the names of specific Brothers with whom I am particularly close. I jotted down my gratitude for all the students that I have taught. For the most part, they have been motivated, friendly, funny, and a real source of delight for me. Even the few students who have proven more “difficult” are beloved sons of God and, consequently, a genuine cause for thanks.
Our novices and temporary-professed Brothers made the list, of course, as did all the young men with whom I have spoken about a Marianist vocation. My own Marianist vocation was (and is!) as a reason for gratitude on my part, and so is the opportunity to partake of the sacramental life of the Church. Indeed, what a blessing it is to attend daily Mass, and to do that every day in communion with Christ, His Blessed Mother, and my Marianist Brothers!
I had tucked that Thanksgiving card away in my journal, and I had neglected it for close to a year, discovering it only by chance a few days ago.
There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I think. The lesson is this: It’s easy to forget all the things for which we should be thankful. So many factors cause us to forget to say, “Thank you.” Most of us lead busy lives, and in the frenetic pace of a typical day, I find that I can quite easily forget how lucky I am. Further, it has been a tough year. COVID, the curtailment of our lifestyles by the pandemic, and perhaps even COVID-related deaths among family and friends have weighed heavily upon us. And when we’re weighed down, it’s hard to lift our eyes up to the heavens and say, “Thank you.”
As I am writing this letter, my mom, Maria Josephine Sottosanti Balletta, is slowly dying. She’s 92 years old, and, for the last couple of years, she’s been suffering from congestive heart failure. For a week-and-a-half now, my siblings and I have been keeping vigil at her bedside. Thankfully, we are all there for her. She will die in her own home, surrounded by her loved ones.
There’s a sadness in my mom’s slipping away -- no doubt about that. But the feeling I most experience is gratitude. My mom and my dad lived a wonderful life. They loved one another deeply and often behaved like two starry-eyed newlyweds, even when we were grown children. They even sang to one another. At the time it struck my siblings and me as embarrassingly corny, especially when my dad came home from work; swung open the back door; and crooned, “Maria, I’ve just met a girl named Maria.” They were truly in love, and they taught us what true love is.
Every Christmas, my mom made the best lasagna ever, bar none. Throughout the year, we ate together as a family, even when my dad was running for public office and he and my mom had a series of evening events to attend. My mom loved to cook for us. She kept an impeccably clean home, and the kitchen literally sparkled. In fact, a repairman came to the house once to fix the oven and concluded that my mom must have never used it. To that mistaken conjecture, we all replied, “No, she’s been using that oven every single night for the past fifteen years. She just keeps it immaculately clean.”
A former schoolteacher, my mom was a lifetime learner. Our family excursions and vacations were almost always educational in nature. Sites like Mystic Seaport, the Corning Glass Factory, Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum, and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry were the staples of our family vacations. And again, much to our embarrassment at the time, on seemingly every tour we took, Mom would be the first to ask the tour guide a question or volunteer to be part of some museum demonstration. It was all a bit much for us then, but, in retrospect, Mom’s intellectual curiosity helped define the people her four children would become.
I could go on and on. Mom’s sense of humor; her encouragement of my Marianist vocation; her devotion to her grandchildren; and her civic involvement, even after my dad’s passing 25 years ago, are all blessings for which I am extremely grateful. Further, she was a woman of deep and abiding faith. Her love of God and of His Church made an indelible impression on me.
These are the memories that make me grateful for my mom’s life, even as her life slips away from us.
Look, I know that all of us go through periods of good fortune and bad fortune in our lives. Further, I know that some have had to bear more than their fair share of misfortune. I admit that life’s burdens can make it difficult -- in some cases, well nigh impossible -- to be grateful.
Still, I know that all of us have something for which to be grateful. Counting those blessings, and making them count in our lives, makes all the difference in the world. The greatest saints were people of great gratitude. Indeed, their gratitude inspired them to the acts of heroic virtue for which we remember them today.
Many years ago, Fr. Tom Cardone preached on the phrase “the attitude of gratitude” during his schoolwide Thanksgiving Mass homily. That phrase has remained with me ever since.
Created in God’s image, beloved by the Father, and redeemed by Christ’s blood, we all have many blessings for which to be grateful. As Thanksgiving approaches, let us recall those blessings, give thanks to God, and adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for the rest of our lives.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,
Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.