"Gratitude-giving" 2008

Deacon Greg has a really excellent homily for Thanksgiving. How I envy his parishioners!

Very often, in our prayer lives, we spend so much time on our knees, asking for things. Pleading. “God, help me pass this test.” “Keep me from throttling my teenager.” “Help me find a job.” “Protect my son in Iraq.”

The scripture tells us to ask and we shall receive, and to knock and it will be opened. So we ask, and we knock.

But what happens then?

In Luke’s gospel today, 10 people are cured by Jesus of leprosy. Only one comes back to say thank you. Tellingly, the person who comes back isn’t Jewish. But neither was St. Luke. Luke is the only one of the evangelists who was not a Jew. And his gospel was written for those, like himself, who were the outsiders, the foreigners. Christ’s message, Luke tells us, is meant for everyone.

But in the gospel story, not everyone comes back. Only one, a Samaritan, returns to give glory to God. We don’t know what happened to the other nine. Maybe they had turkeys to stuff or football games to watch.

Implicit in this episode is the idea that something is missing. Giving thanks is a vital and necessary part of our relationship with God.

All the lepers were cured. But only one, the one who gave thanks, was saved.

And that is because thankfulness, we discover, is a measure of faith. A measure of our dependence on God, and of our own humility.

But sometimes thankfulness can be hard to express.

Most of us know someone who is having a difficult time this Thanksgiving. The woman who is spending her first holiday as a widow. The father who lost his job and is worried about where he will find Christmas gifts for his children. Those friends and neighbors who are hurting or alone.

Where are the blessings for these and others who are feeling, in a particular way, burdened, afflicted, cursed?

The simple, indisputable fact is this: every breath is a blessing. Every sunrise. Every snowfall. “Bless the God of all,” Sirach exclaims, “who has done wondrous things on earth.” Incredibly, we are part of that wonder, part of God’s continuing creation in the world. And what a blessing to be able to say that!

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

Do you know what I always thank God for? After I get done with my usual (and heartfelt) “thank yous” to God, “thank you for my husband, thank you for my children, thank you for our family – it’s oldest and newest members – thank you that we are employed today, thank you that we are healthy today, I thank you for my nation…” After I say those things, I always say, “thank you that I can raise a cup of coffee to my lips, unassisted.”

It’s easy to remember to be grateful for those “big” and “obvious” things. But it is the humble, ordinary things – the things we take for granted, that give us mobility, opportunity, self-sufficiency, expression – we rarely think to be grateful for those things.

I realized once, while at prayer, that real joy and contentment in life is not possible – cannot be possible – without real gratitude. Unless you really KNOW what you have, how can you appreciate it, and if you do not appreciate your life how can you be joyful?

I used to volunteer at a local hospital, visiting patients, seeing what they needed, praying with them if they wanted that, and I ended up working particularly with those coming back from brain injuries. One day I realized…I can dress myself, I can feed myself. I can stir my cup of coffee and raise it to my lips, all by myself. My hand does not shake; I do not need someone to raise the cup for me, or slip a straw into it. I do not need anyone to wipe my lips for me.

I do not have to wait for someone to come to me and guess my need, before my thirst is quenched.

It was a revelation to me,
to consider how ungrateful I had been for those things. They are not little things. They are everything, as any of the patients I had visited would have told me.

There is much to be grateful for, in every life – even in those lives which we think of as “lacking” in quality – if one person loves us or treats us with kindness and dignity, we are blessed.

I thank my God for all good things, and even for the things and circumstances that do not always immediately seem to fall into the category of “good.” I trust. I hope. I believe. I thank.

And thanks, too, to all of you – for all of your prayers, good wishes, encouragement, Amazon purchases (!) and your astonishing willingness to come read my drivel, day after day. I’m thankful for you; thankful to you. I know what good people you are, and others do, too, which is why so often, they will ask me to ask you to pray for them. God bless.

See Also: Ed Morrissey’s thoughts on our national story.

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