Today’s reflection is for the Thanksgiving 2020, November 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here soon.
St. John of Avila said, “One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclination.” It’s true that when life is most difficult, it is often most difficult to find reasons to give thanks, but it is in those difficult times that our attitude of gratitude has the most power to transform us.
Happy thanksgiving to all of those who read this homily, or who watch it via livestream. Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. No lights or candy, lists of wants, reindeer, easter bunnies and the like. Just the gift of one person to the next. Just a family that gathers together to share a meal, share stories, introduce new babies, new marriages, and to give thanks for the blessing of the past year.
There was a time not long ago when Christmas didn’t start until Thanksgiving was over. Black Friday was the Friday after Thanksgiving. Christmas sales were put on hold while families gave thanks. Those days are now over. Black Friday no longer even means Friday. It just means a type of sale that starts whenever anyone chooses. Christmas decorations are already up! We went from wanting candy to wanting presents and never stopped to give thanks. We are a culture that no longer gives thanks.
I remember walking up to a very busy Starbucks where the line often goes right up to the door. I got there before another woman, but politely opened the door for her. She walked right through like I was the bellhop. She never even looked at me. She just got right in line and never even bothered to turn around and say thank you, never mind letting me in front of her!
That was the very problem that Jesus was trying to address in his own day. Then, as now, our thankless world needs Jesus. Ten lepers were healed, but nine did not return to give thanks. Those are really bad odds. Do you think it would be different today? There are no doubt lots of reasons for the lepers not to return to give thanks. Many had lost so much of their lives. They lost family and friends, jobs, and property. When a person contracted leprosy, they were removed from the city and made to sit outside the city gates so as not to infect others. Reduced to a life of poverty and begging, they announced “unclean” and were ostracized.
Once clean they wanted to get back to regular life! With no possessions or property, they might have been afraid of how they would put their life back together and didn’t have a moment to spare. No doubt some were angry or bitter with the one who infected them, or with the way they were treated. Some wanted to blame others, regain their stature, or were so focused on the “wants” of life they lost and didn’t have time to go back. But one did give thanks, and he was blessed by Jesus. How can we during this pandemic, during this economic uncertainty, during rises in infections, rises in unemployment, and a rise in political, racial, and social division be people who give thanks. How can we be that leper?
I think the answer is to give thanks. I think we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. St. Paul says, “In ALL circumstances give thanks. For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” No bitterness, no complaining, no blaming, no kicking rocks. Give thanks. In good times (that’s easy), and in bad, find reasons to give thanks. It must be intentional.
Praying together as a family is something that I grew up with, and is something that is very important to my own family now. I remember when we lived in Salinas, the boys were just two and four and as we got ready for bed it was time to pray. Very early on I noticed that prayer quickly devolved into a list of wants. Prayers of petition are certainly very popular, but I didn’t want my sons to think of God as their perpetual sugar daddy in the sky. I wanted them to look around and give thanks for all that they already had, instead of requesting all that they didn’t have.
My deal was that six days a week they were to thank Jesus for things they already had, and Sunday would be reserved for petitions. One time we were sitting on the bed, and Luke’s legs were out in front of him as we prayed. He was in his PJs without socks. He was only two and as he looked around his room for something to thank Jesus for, he ended up looking at his bare toes, and thanked Jesus for them.
Have you ever thanked Jesus for your toes? You can’t walk without them. If you’re listening to this, give thanks for your hearing. If you’re watching this, give thanks for your vision. If you’re with family give thanks for them. If you have a tv to watch, electricity, running water, clean air, a roof over your head, food in your fridge…a refrigerator at all! If we gave it any thought at all we would see countless opportunities everyday for which to give thanks. That’s what this day is all about–not that we have everything we want, but that we have so much for which to give thanks.
My brothers and sisters, our country stops to give thanks one day a year, but in our church we gather to give thanks every Sunday, and every day of the week. The word Eucharist means, “to give thanks.” The Eucharist is the daily antidote to bitterness, anger, and self focus. Giving thanks points away from ourselves, and points instead toward the gift-giver. When we give thanks we acknowledge the goodness and generosity of others. We “see” others. We “see” God.
My brothers and sisters, we are all lepers who have been cleansed by the Lord Jesus. Be the one who gives thanks. For your healing, for your life, for your family and friends, and for your toes. Happy Thanksgiving.