Giving Thanks Always and Everywhere, Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thanksgiving Day
November 28, 2013
Sir 50:22-24, Ps 145, 1 Cor 1:3-9, Lk 17:11-19

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here: 

 

The following text guided the preached homily: 

The crucial difference in the grateful leper

Today as we celebrate our national feast of Thanksgiving, the Church has us ponder in the Gospel the story of the ten lepers. All ten were cured of a disease that had been eating away their flesh and bones, that had made them stink, that had made them the worst of outcasts and forced them to stay at least 50 feet away from any non-leper, that had compelled them at all times to yell out “unclean!, unclean!,” anytime someone was approaching. Only one of the ten returned to thank the Lord Jesus. Jesus poignantly asks, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” Jesus wished them all to return not because he had worked the miracle with impure motives to get them to thank him, but so that he might give them an even greater gift than the stupendous physical cure. He wanted to give them all what he gave the Samaritan who returned, the grace of salvation by faith. But while all ten were cured of the physical leprosy, nine retained a leprosy of the soul, an ingratitude that took for granted the greatest gift they had received in life until then.

Why did only one return? What was it about the cured Samaritan that distinguished him from all the others? The text raises a question as to whether it might have something to do with nationality. “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?,” Jesus asks aloud. The other nine lepers were presumably Jews and Jesus was implying that it was shocking that only the Samaritan returned because the Jews had been trained by God for centuries in the prayers of the Psalms and in the incredible events of salvation history to give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. If anyone should have learned how to say thanks to God, it should have been the Jews. But there was nothing special in Samaritan culture that would have made Samaritans in general more grateful than Jews. What distinguished the one leper who returned, in my opinion, is that he likely was someone who was regularly grateful, someone who even in the midst of a terrible disease never stopped counting the blessings he did have, never stopped hoping in the Lord who every day gave him another day of life, never stopped praying. The other nine likely looked at their disease with anger toward God, as if he had somehow sadistically them him out for unjust punishment such that when they were cured they looked at it the way people might view getting released from an unkind kidnapper: they would be grateful for the liberation but they likely wouldn’t send a thank-you note to the one who had held them in captivity. But the Samarian, even though his body had been disintegrating, his soul hadn’t been destroyed by the leprosy of bitterness, complaining, cursing, or ingratitude. His fundamental relationship with God was still there. He likely thanked God for all the little things he received from his hands, like the generosity of people who would provide food, or give a kind word of compassion. And when he received the big grace of his cure, he did what he probably always did, and immediately sought to thank the Giver.

How the pilgrims emulated the grateful leper

There’s a lot that we all have to learn from this scene to help us understand and celebrate better Thanksgiving, because this attitude of the grateful leper was the attitude that marked the pilgrims who celebrated the first day of Thanksgiving, 37.6 miles from here.

When the pilgrims lowered the anchor in Plymouth harbor in December 1620, they were filled with hope. They had survived a perilous three-month journey on an inhospitable Atlantic with only one casualty. Their incessant prayers for a safe arrival had been heard. They had finally landed in the new world and were ready to begin a new life. Little did they know the year that would await them.

Of the 103 that disembarked, more than half would die before winter was over. Governor John Carver, their leader, succumbed quickly to fever. Ten of the seventeen husbands and fathers died. Fourteen of their seventeen wives also perished. The young wife of soon-to-be Governor William Bradford drowned in Plymouth harbor before even reaching shore. Those who avoided the grave remained in grave danger because of fevers, famine and freezing temperatures. Yet they didn’t give up hope.

With the  Spring came the arrival of Squanto, who taught them various survival tactics, like how to distinguish between poisonous and good plants, to tap maple trees for sap, to fertilize soil with dead fish and to plant corn. When that soil produced a modest harvest a few months later, they organized a feast not just to thank Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit and their large families, but principally to thank God for all his blessings since their arrival.

The fifty-one survivors easily could have looked at the previous eleven months as the worst year of their lives. They had buried almost as many bodies in the soil, after all, as bushels of food they had taken from the soil. The reason they were able to thank God so heartily, however, in spite of the suffering they had endured was because they believed those hardships and blessings were both part of God’s providential care. No amount of personal suffering could shake their faith. No amount of hardship could rock their trust in a God whom they knew loved them and was looking over them. They convened full of gratitude because they realized they were on a pilgrimage not only to Plymouth but to Paradise. Everything — adverse or propitious, life and even death — was part of God’s plans for them on their journey not merely to the new world but to a New World. That final destination, and their faith in the God who awaited them, were what gave meaning to all their sufferings and joys along the way. And it’s what filled them with a spirit of gratitude.

Do we have that same spirit of Thanksgiving that marked the grateful leper and the Pilgrims who had survived? If this weren’t a national holiday on our civic calendar, would we on our own want to organize a big feast of our family members and friends just to thank God for everything over the course of the last year? Are we just going through a civic ritual involving turkey and gravy, stuffing and turnip, family and football, or do we approach this day with a hearts and souls bursting with thanks to God and to others for all of the blessings we have received, including the crosses and hardships?

Thanksgiving, always and everywhere: our duty and salvation

There’s a very important dialogue of prayer that happens in the heart of every Mass. After the priest prays that the Lord be with all present and the people pray that God will be in a special way with the priest to do what God ordained him to do, after the priest commands the people in God’s name to lift up their hearts, the desires and their lives to God and the people reply that they have in fact lifted them up to the Lord, the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the people respond, “It is right and just.” The priest then echoes that sentiment saying, “It is right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.” To give God thanks always and everywhere is the right thing to do, whether we’re perfectly healthy or have leprosy, AIDS, cancer or any other suffering. To give God thanks always and everywhere is the just thing to do even when whether with win or lose the lottery, whether we get a promotion and a pink-slip, whether we are celebrating a wedding or a funeral. To give God thanks always and everywhere is our duty and our salvation. We are saved through thanksgiving! The grateful leper received salvation by faith precisely through his gratitude, not because God makes salvation conditioned on our saying thanks but because if we’re not grateful, if our hearts are hardened, we can’t receive that grace.

The Mass is a school of Thanksgiving, where we are trained how to give thanks to God always and everywhere as the right thing to do, as a duty of justice, and as the path to salvation. It’s highly significant that when the first Christians described what they were doing when they got together to “do this in memory” of the Lord, they didn’t called it the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t call it the Feast of the Lord’s Supper or the Banquet of the Lamb. They called it the Eucharist, from the Greek word, Eucaristein, which means thanksgiving. Every time they came together for Mass, it was Thanksgiving Day. It was Thanksgiving during the times of growth and peace. It was Thanksgiving during the times of persecution. But their fundamental approach to the Mass was that it was the greatest way possible for them to thank God for the gift of life, to thank God for so many blessings of family and friends, to thank God for the gift of the Christian faith and the new life and family they had received in baptism, and to thank God for the gift of salvation.

They saw what they were doing as entering into Jesus’ own prayer of Thanksgiving to the Father. To enter into Jesus’ prayer is to become filled with a spirit of Thanksgiving. His prayers were always marked by gratitude. He thanked the Father before the multiplication of the loaves and fish. He thanked the Father for revealing his wisdom to the merest of children instead of to the clever and proud of the world. He thanked the Father before the resuscitation of Lazarus. During the Mass, he thanked the Father profusely even before he was to give his own body and blood during the Last Supper. He thanked the Father before he would be crucified because through that sacrifice he would be able to save us all out of love. The Mass is the school in which we enter into Jesus’ own thanksgiving, always and everywhere, to the Father. The Mass is our continual thanksgiving from the rising of the sun to its setting. It is a school that transforms us to be fully Christian and to be Christian is to be grateful.

The Lord has done far more for us than he ever did for the ten lepers or the Pilgrims. Here at Mass he gives us in a concrete way even more than what he gave to the one grateful leper when he said, your faith has saved you. This is where we receive salvation-in-the-flesh. No matter what we have experienced in this past year, no matter what hardships we’re still enduring, God comes into our world, to accompany us, to strengthen us, to heal us, to help us. He comes down here each day to save us. And so we say, “Thanks be to God!” Deo gratias! Now and forever. Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
SIR 50:22-24

And now, bless the God of all,
who has done wondrous things on earth;
Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,
and fashions them according to his will!
May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel
to deliver us in our days.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11

R. (see 1) I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
They discourse of the power of your terrible deeds
and declare your greatness.
They publish the fame of your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your justice.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.

Reading 2
1 COR 1:3-9

Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel
LK 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”