November 25, 2004 Thanksgiving Day
Reading I (Sirach 50:22-24) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)
Gospel (St. Luke 17:11-19)
In the first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we hear the words: And now, bless the God of all, Who has done wondrous things on earth. When we consider what it is that Our Lord has done, not only just generically upon the earth but in particular within our own lives, we have very much to be grateful for. In fact, if we just simply consider ourselves in light of the Gospel reading today, the lepers do not have anything on us because the leprosy that affected us was not anything physical but spiritual: our sins that God has forgiven and the wayward nature that many, if not most of us, are prone to and have probably fallen into at some point within our lives. God in His mercy has called us back to Himself. As Saint Paul made clear to the Corinthians, God has enriched us in every way possible; He has given us discourse, He has given us knowledge, and the testimony to Christ has been confirmed within us. Even more importantly than that, Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that God will strengthen them to the end. That is what is called the grace of final perseverance, that is, to remain faithful until the very end. That is something which perhaps many of us take for granted, but it cannot be taken for granted. It is something which is a true grace.
But the fact that we even have faith at all is purely a gift from God. How grateful we need to be for that and for everything else God has given to us, whether it is the people in our lives, or whether it is the talents and abilities, or even if it is the struggles, the sufferings, and the people who make our lives miserable, because we realize it is in the midst of the struggles and the sufferings and the difficult people that we have the greatest opportunity to grow in virtue and in holiness. We recall Our Lord’s words that we have to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, and so even for these things we have to be able to say “thank you” because otherwise it is like the person who goes on retreat. They are all by themselves for a week, and by the end of the retreat they might be tempted to think they have really developed some pretty major virtue because they have not gotten angry at anyone for a whole week. They have not been impatient. They have not mouthed off. They have not had any problems for a whole week! That is because they have not seen any people either. We can fall into the same trap if everything is too easy; we think that we have made it. So the Lord allows some difficult people and some difficult circumstances to take place in our lives, and very quickly we find out just how far we really have made it – and how far we still have to go. If it were just up to us, thinking that we had everything in good order, when the end comes in our lives and the devil is there to tempt us severely, if we thought we had all the virtue in good order we would fall. And so God in His mercy allows these difficulties in order to strengthen us, to purify us, and to help us to be able to practice the virtue that we really want. Rather than going to prayer and asking God to take all the problems away, what we need to learn to do is go to prayer and say “thank you” even for the problems.
There is so much good that we have to say “thank you” for. The fact that we say “thank you” is a point that we recognize the gift God has given. To fail to say “thank you” is to reject the gift or to attempt to take it on as one’s own. We remember the words of Saint Paul when he asked the question, Name something you have that you did not receive; and if you have received it, why do you boast of it as if it were your own? Most of us, at that point, would like to stand up and object that we in fact have lots of things we can do all by ourselves. At which point I would say, “And where did you get the ability to do it?” We might say, “But I went to school and I learned how to do it.” But if God had not given the ability, all the schooling in the world would not allow you to do whatever it is that you are able to do. So the ability itself is God-given, and, even prior to that, life is God-given. Every single thing that we have is given to us by God, so we need to be grateful for everything.
Your presence here today makes very clear that you recognize that and you have come to share in the greatest act of thanksgiving that humanity knows, the act of thanksgiving of Jesus Christ to His heavenly Father in the very sacrifice of thanksgiving that will be offered on the altar in just a few moments. Recall, of course, that the word Eucharist is the Greek word that means “thanksgiving”. And so we come before the Lord to offer Him thanks for everything He has done, and, above all, to offer Him thanks for our faith and for incorporating us into His Son and for giving to us a share in the inheritance, the inheritance which is God Himself, because we are made members of the Son of God. So many things that we often take for granted, we need to make sure that as Christian people we say “thank you” not just one day out of the year but every day. When we read Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, he tells us that we must have this attitude of gratitude, not just once but always. That is to be one of the hallmarks of the Christian life: the gratitude to God, the gratitude even to those around us for all of the good – and even for the things that do not seem so good to us – but really (if we were to look at them objectively) are among the very best things that God has given to us. And so in the struggles as well as in the wonderful times, in the difficulties that we face as well as in the glories of our achievements, we need to remember to turn to the Lord and to thank Him for all of the good He has done for us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.