Cross and Cornucopia

It is Thanksgiving week, and we are filled with thoughts of all the good things for which we have to be thankful to God. It is natural to remember the many blessings that we have been given. But there are some less obvious “blessings” that we must also acknowledge. In his thought provoking poem, A Thanksgiving, St. John Henry Newman succeeds in what he does so well. He takes a familiar subject and through compact verse, leads us to reconsider the topic. We know from the outset of this poem, with the chosen quote from Psalm 119, that Newman will manage to bring us deeper into contemplation of Thanksgiving.

A Thanksgiving

“Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” Psalm 119.75

LORD, in this dust Thy sovereign voice
First quicken’d love divine;
I am all Thine,—Thy care and choice,
My very praise is Thine.

I praise Thee, while Thy providence
In childhood frail I trace,
For blessings given, ere dawning sense
Could seek or scan Thy grace;

Blessings in boyhood’s marvelling hour,
Bright dreams, and fancyings strange;
Blessings, when reason’s awful power
Gave thought a bolder range;

In the first stanzas Newman thanks God for leading, him, the child Newman, to Love God through the various stages of his young life. Newman thanks God for “quickening” his soul towards Him, acknowledging that it was God who called Him from the very beginning. Newman considers the blessings that he received as he grew older, before he could fully understand them, and then when he had reached the age of reason, he began to comprehend these blessings. He continues:

Blessings of friends, which to my door
Unask’d, unhoped, have come;
And, choicer still, a countless store
Of eager smiles at home.

Yet, Lord, in memory’s fondest place
I shrine those seasons sad,
When, looking up, I saw Thy face
In kind austereness clad.

Amidst all the many blessings that Newman recalls, of family and friends, he remembers too the times that he has displeased our Lord, and the “chastisement” that this has brought to him. These sorrows, or chastisements, Newman considers as “sweet love-tokens.” The poem continues:

I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart-pang, or throbbing brow;
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.

Yes! let the fragrant scars abide,
Love-tokens in Thy stead,
Faint shadows of the spear-pierced side
And thorn-encompass’d head.

And such Thy tender force be still,
When self would swerve or stray,
Shaping to truth the froward will
Along Thy narrow way.

St. John Henry realized that Christ had sent him just what was most needed for his good, though not always what was most pleasing. Gently and lovingly does the Lord deal with his children. He gives no unnecessary pain, but that which is needed he will not withhold. This poem of Thanksgiving ends with a stanza which reinforces the lesson that Newman taught time and again, that in affliction and in sorrow, that in these weaknesses hope thrives. He ends the poem:

Deny me wealth; far, far remove
The lure of power or name;
Hope thrives in straits, in weakness love,
And faith in this world’s shame.

Oxford. October 20, 1829

The graces arising from afflictions are so many, and so great, that we have great reason, not only to be contented with, but to rejoice in, and to be very thankful for, all the crosses we meet; to receive them cheerfully at God’s hand, as the medicines of our soul, and the instruments of virtue; as solid grounds of hope to attain that peace that passes all understanding.

During this Thanksgiving week, we should be mindful to thank God not only for the goods that He has granted us, but also for the trials He has allowed us. Have you considered the ways that hardship and sorrow, pain, and trials help you to bear the cross of Christ? Do you make use of your suffering, offering it to Christ? Let us remember to give thanks to our Lord, who has made even trials a blessing.

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