“Always giving thanks”
NOVEMBER 24, 2016
THE FEAST OF THANKSGIVING DAY
How often do we consciously thank God? And for what kind of things, most of the time? Do we show our gratitude in action?
The Entrance Antiphon says we should thank God for “everything” and “always”: “Sing and play music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks for everything to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephe.sians 5:19-20)
In the Opening Prayer we accept our responsibility as stewards to do what needs to be done. We say formally to God, “On Thanksgiving Day we come before you with gratitude for your kindness.” And we ask him to “open our hearts to concern for our fellow men and women, so that we may share your gifts in loving service.” Both of these are things that need to be said. And more than once a year.
We make this statement on Thanksgiving Day as a church, as members of the human race, and as citizens of a country that has recognized from its very beginnings the importance of giving thanks to God. The Great Seal of the United States, printed on every dollar bill, shows the eye of an all-seeing Providence (which for believers means God) surmounted by the words Annuit coeptis, “He has smiled on these beginnings.” These words are inspired by the prayer of Aeneas’ son in Virgil’s Aeneid, book IX, which reads, Iuppiter omnipotens, audacibus adnue cœptis: “Almighty Jupiter, favor [my] daring undertakings." The Great Seal proclaims the nation’s belief that God approved its foundation. In the Prayer over the Gifts we acknowledge, “God our Father, from your hand we have received generous gifts,” and we go on to add, “so that we might learn to share your blessings in gratitude.”
All three Mass prayers remind us that gratitude calls us to share with others. In the Prayer After Communion we say that God’s love “for every man and woman” reminds us of our own “negligence toward others.” We ask God to help us “reach out in love to all your people, so that we may share with them the goods of time and eternity.”
This is the spirit of stewardship. We are aware that all we have is gift, and that God wants us to use his gifts for the good of others. They are his free act of love to us, but they are also his investment. God gives to those who have, expecting them to use what they have to help those who have not.
“Having” and “having not” do not just refer to money, but to the “everything” we thank God for. Those who have possessions, skills, health, disposable time, or just cheerfulness and a smile to express it, are expected to use these for the good of others. Our baptismal consecration as stewards who share in the responsibilities of Christ’s kingship commits us to it.
Thanksgiving and praise
Sirach 50:22-24 alerts us that thanksgiving and praise go together. We “bless God” because he has “done wondrous things on earth.” Sirach focuses on the most basic, the source of all: God “fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb.” Our very existence is an ongoing activity of God choosing to make us be. If he paused for even an eyeblink, we would instantly cease to exist. God’s continuing choice that we should esse et bene esse — “be and be all we can be” (St. Augustine’s definition of love) — is all that stands between us and absolute nothingness.
God’s “steadfast love” is our only ultimate guarantee that we will continue to have existence itself, not to mention anything else that gives us the “joy of heart” Sirach wishes us. If we keep ourselves aware of this fundamental truth, both as individuals and as a nation, by praising God privately and publicly for his “goodness toward us,” we will be freed from false and destructive dependence on affluence or power. Only then will “peace abide among us.” The Responsorial (Psalm 145) suggests we respond: “I will praise your name forever, Lord.”
For God and country
Paul underscores the essential connection between peace and the favor (grace) of God by beginning all thirteen of the letters attributed to him with the words “grace and peace,” as he does in 1Corinthians 1:3-9. And like Sirach, he builds peace on praise and gratitude:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
Paul roots our peace in confidence based on God’s steadfast love: “He will keep you firm to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful.” Our peace grows out of thanksgiving nourished by praise. Response: “I will praise your name forever, Lord.”
A sobering thought
In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus tells a story with a hook. Ten lepers are cured. Only one returns to say “Thank you.” Jesus says to this one, “Go on your way; your faith has saved you.”
It makes us wonder about the other nine. They were cured of leprosy, but how much good did it do them? And we, if we receive the gifts of God without acknowledging them in conscious praise and thanksgiving, what do we miss out on?
Getting down to particulars, how consciously — and how enthusiastically — do we praise God at Mass? Especially during the Introductory Rites which are especially designed to supply us with matter for praise.
Do we listen to the words of the Greeting, to the phrases of the Gloria? Do we say them trying to mean them and to grow into meaning them more and more?
It is a basic principle of life, celebrated on this day and affirmed in all three readings, that praise and thanksgiving foster appreciation. And appreciation fosters love. Bottom line: “I will praise your name forever, Lord.”
Do I see the connection between praise, thanksgiving, appreciation and love?
Initiative: Make the connection in family, social life, work and church.