Bishop Hying

Thanksgiving: A reminder that all received is a gift meant to be cherished, celebrated and shared

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on November 18, 2017


      Thanksgiving Day has remained a simple holiday. No gifts, candy, decorations or seasons are attached to it. Family and friends simply gather for a meal on the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks to God and one another, rejoicing in the many graces and blessings that we have received from the hands of the provident and loving Lord of the feast. For us, as Christians, thanksgiving is not simply a day on the calendar but rather a whole way of life.

      From the earliest days of the Church, disciples would gather on Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Jesus, to celebrate the Eucharist, hear the Word, offer the gifts, share in the Paschal Mystery, receive the Body and Blood of the Lord and go forth to live the Gospel. For all of the changes in the Mass over 2,000 years, these fundamental elements have remained the same and always will.

      For those who knew Jesus Christ in the flesh, the Eucharist must have been the moment when they most profoundly felt united with him in the Real Presence. Mass was the fundamental link to their Lord and Master, keeping him from simply becoming a pious memory of a good man. The freshness of Jesus’ death and resurrection gave poignancy and directness to the Sunday experience of worship.

      Those first followers needed to give thanks and praise to God for the salvation, mercy, life and forgiveness that they had personally experienced in the painful and glorious events of Holy Week. As Jesus said about the woman who anointed his feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, “Those who have been forgiven much, love more.”

      I am always a little saddened when I encounter ingratitude, both in myself and others. Stinginess, selfishness, entitlement, and jealousy choke the joy and life out of us. Focusing on past hurts and slights, looking at what we do not have rather than what we do, always feeling that the world owes us something all crush our innate sense of wonder, the intuitive understanding of life as a gift and the joy of living in love and thanksgiving.

      A culture of victimization reduces life to transactional relationships.  You owe me!  The Gospel is the diametric opposite of such a dreary stance.

      When we grasp the love of God, when we realize that Jesus’ miracles and preaching are for us, when we stand at the foot of the cross and at the entrance to the empty tomb, realizing what Jesus’ death and resurrection have saved us from and saved us for, life becomes a radiant eruption of thanksgiving for the wonder and mystery of our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. 

      We stop measuring what we give, stop parceling out every penny, stop counting the cost. Think of Mary spending 300 days wages to buy a costly aromatic nard to anoint the feet of Jesus.

      I think of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” as a prime example of what such a conversion looks like. Scrooge lived in the shadow of death, unknown and unloved, worshiping money as his god, stingy and parsimonious, shriveled up inside, sad and alone. By exploring the love and pain of his past, the struggles of the many people he has disregarded in the present and his own miserable demise in the future, Scrooge experiences a radical transformation, discovering the power of love and joy, living in thanksgiving and generosity for the rest of his days.

      As we gather this upcoming week for Thanksgiving, what gifts are you most profoundly grateful for?       Tradition tells us the first Thanksgiving was a moment when the pilgrims gathered with the Native Americans who had saved their lives with generous donations of food in order to thank God for bringing them safely to this New World of promise and hope, in spite of crossing a stormy Atlantic, suffering disease and starvation and leaving everyone they knew and loved in such a risky venture. 

      For most of us, life does not hang that dramatically in the balance. We have a superabundance of everything - food, clothes, shelter, education, entertainment, health care, security. Perhaps, gratitude comes less easily to us because our needs are all satisfied if not satiated. We can think we have the world by the tail. We worked hard. We deserve this. We do not need God or anybody else.

      Thanksgiving is a moment when we pause to acknowledge our dependence and neediness, to offer thanks to God for the enormity of gifts given, to think of others far less fortunate than ourselves, to realize that life is a blessing and a grace. 

      Thanksgiving reminds us that all we have received is a gift from the benevolence of the Lord and is meant to be cherished, celebrated and shared. 

      Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can still awaken to a new wonder in that our lives are mysterious and graced, a direct participation in the grandeur and generosity of the Lord of the feast.

      G.K. Chesterton artfully expressed it. “Once I discovered that life is essentially magic, I realized there had to exist a Divine Magician who created all of this and gave it to me.” 

      Here is another quote from him:  “The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”

      Happy Thanksgiving!


       + Donald J. Hying

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