"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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.gesthemanegarden.blogspot.com Hislittlelamb

    and don’t forget to be thankful to God in adversity:

    Here’s a portion of a lovely little pamphlet entitled “Uniformity With God’s Will” by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, 2. Uniformity in all things:

    The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God’s will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God. St. John of Avila used to say: “One ‘Blessed be God’ in times of adversity, is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity (St. John Avila Letters)

    Reading further in chapter 2 is something especially to keep in mind with the current events:

    It is true, when one offends us unjustly, God does not will his sin, nor does he concur in the sinner’s bad will; but God does, in a general way, concur in the material action by which such a one strikes us, robs us or does us an injury, so that God certainly wills the offense we suffer and it comes to us from his hands. Thus the Lord told David he would be the author of those things he would suffer at the hands of Absalom: “I will raise up evils against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy face and give them to thy neighbor”(2 Kings, 12:11) Hence too God told the Jews that in punishment for their sins, he would send the Assyrians to plunder them and spread destruction among them: “The Assyrian is the rod and staff of my anger . . . I will send him to take away the spoils (Isaias 10:5), 6..” “Assyrian wickedness served as God’s scourge for the Hebrews (St. Aug. in Ps. 73.)‘‘

    When the messenger came to announce to Job that the Sabeans had plundered his goods and slain his children, he said: “The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away (Job. 1:21)” He did not say: “The Lord hath given me my children and my possessions, and the Sabeans have taken them away.” He realized that adversity had come upon him by the will of God. Therefore he added: “As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Ibid.)” We must not therefore consider the afflictions that come upon us as happening by chance or solely from the malice of men; we should be convinced that what happens, happens by the will of God.


  • ViolaJ.

    Anchoress, thanks for this lovely post! So true!

    Wishing you and your family a very Happy and blessed Thanksgiving today! Thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful writings. I learn so much from you. Best to you!

  • Myssi

    Yes, A. Those little things are the ones we should be grateful for. I am a survivor (miraculously so) of a brain injury, and though I can’t play a piano, I can tie my shoes and my toddler’s shoes and I can write my own name and once it finishes perking, I will be able to lift my coffee to my lips this morning and it is good.

  • Regina

    Thank you Anchoress for such wonderful writing.

    I once heard a tape of Thomas Merton talking to the novices at his monastery about prayer, and one phrase he used stayed with me – we need to have “an attitude of gratitude.”

    I’m grateful for so much, but recently I’ve been most grateful for my talents, and that I’m able to use them to help other people. To be able to lift a cup to a brain injured person’s lips, as you did, is something to be grateful for. What are our talents for, if not to give someone a hand up on their journey?

    Enjoy your day.

  • Joseph

    My Buddhist teachers have taught me a little meditation which, without the specifically Buddhist details, can benefit anyone:


    You are born a human being who can learn how to be religious.

    From the moment you are born you are headed toward death.

    You are creating your future with every thought, word, and action.

    A life of only worldly pleasures is like the grand last meal before execution.

    What I am most thankful for is having been taught to review these four thoughts every day, and to manage my actions in a way that prepares me both to properly live life and confidently face death.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Acer Palmatum

    Thank you God for giving the Anchoress the strength to blog. It is a real blessing. Amen.

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  • Piano Girl

    Say a prayer for me…I was cutting an onion to go in the turkey & sliced off a small tip of my little finger on my left hand. (Typing with one hand is fun!!!) I think I’m going to have to go to the ER to get help with all the bleeding. I do know how to have fun…this was NOT how I wanted to get out of practicing today!!! I should not be allowed in a kitchen!!!

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  • dellbabe68

    I said that last line about lifting coffee to my lips unassisted in Church today. Good point and a good prayer.

    Years from now when you’re cannonized, this will be the prayer on the back of your prayer card. You will be the patron saint of coffee drinkers everywhere.

  • Piano Girl

    update…hand is all wrapped up but by tomorrow I should be able to wiggle all but my pinkie on my LH, With any luck, I will be able to fake my way through some Rachmaninoff!!!

    [I cannot believe you cut your finger like that! Please be well- don't get infected, and I'll ask St. Cecilia to pray for you! Admin]

  • invernessie


    I need to thank you. Everyday I look forward to reading your postings or links because they always give me food for thought or new ways to look at things. Everyday your blog gives me the nudge I need to be less inner focused and open myself to others.

    BTW, how did the Thanksgiving veggies work out?

  • dellbabe68

    Piano Girl,
    Take care of that finger. Keep it clean and covered till it begins to heal, use peroxide freely, and get a high quality anti bacterial ointment.