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Thanksgiving Message: Overcoming Fear with Gratitude

Timothy R. Lannon, S.J.
President, Creighton University

When we look at troubling circumstances around us, often our first reaction is fear. This is frequently our response to change and the unknown as we almost immediately imagine worst-case scenarios. We experience fear for ourselves, our families, our nation. Although fear can play a meaningful, helpful role at times, we must not give in to this tendency and find ourselves in despair; Thanksgiving provides a perfect reminder for us that we can choose to be people of gratitude and hope in any situation.

The prophet Joel (2: 21) tells us, "The Lord has done great things [for us]." It's true. God has done great things and we will see that if we only take the time to reflect about our lives. Our nation is slowly but surely recovering from economic crisis, and every day we are making advances in medical research that were not possible even 10 years ago. Locally, it is very encouraging that both our Catholic and Omaha Public Schools systems are planning strategically for our community's future educational needs. Their planning holds great promise to strengthen our city and help all of our youth, no matter where they live, achieve their full potential.

At Creighton University, we had a tremendous year and we are very grateful to God. Two of our most selfless benefactors, Charles and Mary Heider of Omaha, along with so many generous alumni and friends, graciously supported our business school and campus renovations. In gratitude we have named the Heider College of Business in their honor. Two of our professors received national and state accolades as professors of the year. Our athletic teams began competition in the BIG EAST Conference, which will bring our whole university (and our city) the opportunity for greater recognition across the country. Most importantly, I see the transformation of our students' lives as they compassionately care for their patients and engage in their class work, research and service activities, and for that I am grateful.

Being grateful doesn't mean we have blinders on and don't acknowledge or seek to resolve problems. The paralysis that has beset our country with the government shutdown over a lack of bipartisanship and collaboration in Washington, D.C., is disheartening. Terrible tragedies involving mass shootings and natural disasters from flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons cause us to seek ways to prevent such tolls on human life, if at all possible.

However, as faith-filled people, we are grateful for the guidance God provides in spite of bleak circumstances. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 3: 12-14) gives us such great advice, telling us to live with "... heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection." No matter what goes wrong in our lives or nation, practicing these precepts will ensure the best possible outcomes and will strengthen us for future challenges.

I admit I am a little biased, being a Catholic and a fellow Jesuit, but I believe it is no coincidence that Pope Francis has been selected to fulfill his very special role. People of all faiths are finding his message about God's mercy cathartic. His compassion and openness to all people are just what we need in this very divisive time in the history of our world.

Finally, during this feast of Thanksgiving, let us echo the prayer of Mary in the gospel from Luke, (Luke 1: 49) which we read at our Thanksgiving Day Alumni Mass at Creighton: "The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." The Almighty has done great things for each one of us. We are a free people, we are a safe people, and, in spite of our differences, we are overwhelmingly a loving people. We love our country, our families and our neighbors near and across the globe. Time and again, the American people rise to the occasion when others are in need and show the love we have in our hearts. And, after all, love drives out fear and is the gift for which we are most grateful.