Pope Francis’ recent encyclical outlined profound challenges that humanity must face if we value human dignity, the common good, and our relationship with God and one another. But it also contained a lot of short, insightful bits of wisdom from the Holy Father. Among these, one of my favorites is when Pope Francis asks that believers return to the “beautiful and meaningful custom” of stopping to give thanks to God before and after meals. He explains:
That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labors provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need. (227)
To approach each meal as the pope describes is to reject the myth of the autonomous individual who is able to provide all that he needs for himself. To thank God and experience true gratitude reminds us of our dependence on God and others. It humbles us. And it reminds us that we have responsibilities to others, generating that sense of solidarity that the pope describes.
We benefit from this prayer by living in reality, rather than being deluded by myths surrounding our own power and control. We benefit by responding to this gratitude in our personal lives—in our treatment of others and the way we consume food and other goods. And finally, we benefit by receiving a constant reminder that we are called to support measures that ensure that everyone in our society has access to the basic needs that we no longer take for granted. Short prayers can be one of the little things that transform our lives and the world around us.