Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man

Father Tom ponders ….. Remember to say, ‘thank you.’

I am sure that like many of you, after my birthday and Christmas I had to sit down and write a letter to everyone who had given me a card and a present. At the time it was a real chore and I can still hear myself saying, ‘Do I have to?’ Well, you all know what the answer was. On the one hand it was a good way a practising my handwriting skills, but also to express gratitude for someone else’s generosity.

For the last few years I have been sponsoring a young lad in Swaziland; his name is Paris. Basically, I pay for his education, a meal at lunch time and a bus to get him to and from school. In return, he usually writes to me letting me know how he is getting on in school and sometimes he sends me his end of year school report. Last week I received not only a letter from him, but a card and a photograph.

In the letter he told me that his best subject is Biology, he’s not very good at Swazi but doing well with English. Over the last couple of years he has struggled with Maths – I haven’t told him I am hopeless at it – and he has improved. What brought a tear to my eye was his last two sentences, ‘Father Tom, I promise to do you proud. May God bless you for being a blessing in my life; I am forever grateful.’

What I spend on a month’s shopping is a little less than I send each year for Paris. It is something I enjoy doing even though Paris and I have never met. He’s only fourteen and it’s a bit soon to bring him to England/Isle of Man. I am hoping to go and visit him possibly next year. I have his smiling photograph on my desk. Every time I sit at it I think of him. If I had only five minutes to take what I could from my home and get out it would be this photograph.

I belong to the on-line Cell of Our Lady of Walsingham. Dozens of prayer requests are made each day. Often the person requests a prayer for themselves or someone close to them. A great many respond with ‘prayer assured’ or ‘prayer offered.’ Only very rarely does anyone respond with the words, ‘Thank you, they are doing well’ or ‘I want to give thanks for.’ It’s not often that when we pray we also add what we are grateful for: a new day, the love of someone close, that we have a faith in the first place. Our prayers can sometimes be a list of ‘what’s wrong’ rather than ‘what is right.’

Thankfully – and I mean that in its truest sense – God is bigger than we are and his love and concern for us is without limits. It is in Psalm 138 (Grail version) that we are reminded of this, ‘Before ever a word is on my tongue you know it, O Lord, through and through…. Too wonderful for me this knowledge, too high, beyond my reach.’ God already knows what is in our heart, what is on our mind and what is troubling us. What I would like to suggest is that perhaps we begin by saying what we are grateful for to begin with. In trendy speak, ‘to see the positive before the negative.’

A teenager, hundreds of miles away, has made me very grateful for what I have and my ability to share some of it. Under the terms of the Charity, I will only be able to support his education until he is eighteen. When that day arrives, I hope we will keep in touch and would have actually met each other by then. If a letter, a card and a photograph can bring so much happiness, just think how that will make God feel when we remember to say to him, ‘thank you.’

Assuring you of my prayers each day and with my best wishes,

Fr Tom