Giving Thanks, BCHS Thanksgiving Mass, November 21, 2000

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River, MA
Thanksgiving Mass
November 21, 2000

1) Melanie was a twelve-year old girl in a small town in Utah, everything going for her. Just about the beginning of November, 1992, she was with her parents as they were leaving an event. She wanted to run to the car ahead of them but she didn’t look both ways and she was hit by a car, sent flying and landed on her head. Her head began to swell. The paramedics came, put her in the ambulance and brought her to the hospital. When they eventually got to the local hospital, the doctors examined Melanie and informed her parents that her condition was so serious that they were going to have to Medivac her to the top hospital in Salt Lake City. They loaded her into the medically-equipped helicopter, but then as her parents tried to climb in, the EMTs told her that there wasn’t enough room in the helicopter for anyone but Melanie, the pilot and the medical personnel. So they had to drive. During the long drive, they feared the worst. When they finally arrived at the hospital in Salt Lake City, their fears were realized. They told her parents that Melanie was already brain dead as a result of the trauma but that they were able to keep her body artificially alive long enough for them to get there, in order to allow them to make a determination of whether they wanted her to become an organ donor. The parents had never — obviously — given any thought to their 12 year old daughter’s becoming an organ donor, but without any hesitation, they said yes.

2) Earlier that day in Salt Lake city, an eight-year old girl named Megan and her family had been having one of the worst days in Megan’s short life. Megan had been born with a serious heart defect, literally a hole in her heart. It had affected her growth, and she constantly had to be on medication, but for the most part, she had grown up normally. That day, however, she had had some tests on her heart that showed her condition had deteriorated considerably and that now she was in desperate need of a heart transplant. They brought in the local God Squad as it’s called, the group of people who are in charge of determining the priority given to transplant recipients to make sure that the most needy people actually got first those hearts that became available. After discussing the situation with Megan’s doctors, the God Squad determined that Megan’s condition was so bad and so immediately life-threatening that Megan was put on the top of the list. She and her family went home. Megan’s sisters were teasing her that the doctors were going to have to use a chain-saw to open up her chest if a heart were ever found. Megan wasn’t feeling much like laughing. She was just now, as an eight-year old, realistically coming to the conclusion that she very well might die and die very soon. But then the phone rang, only eight hours after she had left the hospital. There was a heart ready for transplant but she and her family would have to be at the hospital in less than an hour. They hurried and got to the hospital. As soon as they arrived, Megan was anaesthetized and wheeled into the operating room. The cooler with the heart that would save her life, Melanie’s heart, was brought into the room. Several hours later Melanie’s heart beat again, within Megan.

3) But the story wasn’t over. A few weeks later, Megan was getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. She knew just how much she had to be thankful for that November, but her new heart burned with a desire to thank the people who made her life possible. She didn’t know the identity of the family that had donated her heart, but it was possible to write a letter through the donor agency that would be delivered to the family. So the eight-year old wrote the following letter: “Dear members of the heart donor family, I wanted to write to you on this Thanksgiving to thank you for my life. Without your generous and loving action, today I probably would be dead. I just wanted you to let you know how grateful I am for your loved one’s heart, which has made it possible for me to live. This is the best Thanksgiving ever. Thank you so much. Love, Megan.”

4) I found this extraordinary story about the generosity of Melanie’s family and the gratitude of Megan in a teen magazine last Wednesday at the Ford dealership in Nashua, NH, while I was waiting for my car to be serviced. Megan is now a junior in high school and remains as grateful now to Melanie and her family as she was then and says that each Thanksgiving she writes a letter to Melanie’s family thanking them again, because as she says, if it were not for their generosity, she wouldn’t be around to be thankful for anything else. Megan told the interviewer she has so much to be thankful for each Thanksgiving — for her own family, for good health, for good friends, for so many little things that happen over the course of the year — but that were it not for the action of Melanie’s family giving her life, none of that would matter. She gives thanks most of all for their action which saved her life and made it possible for her to enjoy all of the other great blessings life has to offer. And she wants to make sure she expresses her gratitude to those who made it possible.

5) What do we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? We have so many things, things that sometimes we can take for granted, but which at this time of year, we’re remember and give thanks.

• We can be thankful for our country. Despite all of the things going on down in Florida, we still live in the free-est and greatest country on earth.

• We can be thankful for our families. Sure, oftentimes we may have trouble with parents or siblings, but we love them and they love us and what a blessing that is. Life, lets be honest, would be so much worse without them.

• We can be thankful for our health. Most of us are very healthy. We don’t suffer from terrible diseases like the lepers in the Gospel, but so often we can take our health for granted, like the nine who failed to return to thank Jesus.

• In a special way, students can be thankful for Bishop Connolly HS and for the teachers and faculty members who give of themselves so much so that you might have a better future. Oftentimes teaching can be a thankless job. Teachers put in long hours and get little pay out of love for their students, but too often too many students behave, again, like those nine lepers, and when, a few years’ down the road, they realize just how much their Connolly education has helped them, never return to say thanks. Please don’t let this Thanksgiving go by without thanking them for their sacrifices on your behalf.

6) We can continue to add to the list the various things that we should be thankful for and should express our thanks for in these great days. Many people spend their time at Thanksgiving thanking all of those people, their family members, their friends, who have been good to them. But if we’re really going to get to the real meaning of Thanksgiving, to the deepest meaning of all, we have to take a lesson from Megan, and make sure we thank the One who has made all of these other blessings possible.

7) Because, in many ways, we’re much more like Megan than most of us realize. Imagine that you, like her, were born with a serious heart defect. That you, like her, were going to die without a heart transplant. Then, imagine, that unlike in her lucky circumstances, there weren’t any donors to be found and you were going to die. Then imagine the Father of a healthy son, out of love for you, said that he would sacrifice his own Son so that you might receive a new heart and live. That love and generosity would go way beyond even the great love and generosity that Melanie’s parents have shown. Imagine, someone would value your life even more than the life of his son. But the Father wasn’t a despot, he wasn’t going to force his Son to die without his freely willing it. So he asked his Son if he would be willing to die so that you might live and the Son said yes. Imagine that the Father had described to him the enormous pain that would be associated with such an operation, but that the Son still said yes. Imagine that the Father said that perhaps the donor might not be as grateful as Megan was, but that the Son still said yes. And that you’re alive today with the possibility of enjoying all of these other blessings as a result. How much would you have to be thankful for?

8 ) Well, each of us here had just that very thing happen to us. Each of us was born with an invisible but real defect. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we were born with a bad heart, a disoriented heart, a heart of stone, as the prophet Ezechiel tells us. Without a heart transplant, we were going to die and die eternally. God through the prophets promised that he would take out this heart and place in us a new heart and a new spirit, a heart of flesh, a heart capable of truly love and not just sin. But how did God fulfill his promise? In a way that exceeds anything we could have possibly imagined or foreseen! God the Father decided to send his own eternal Son into the world, to take on human flesh and take on a human heart, so that this heart could be transplanted into the heart of every believer. His whole life was a preparation of love for the surgery, which happened on the operating room in Calvary, on the table of the cross; for the straps to hold him down, they used nails; for anaesthesia, they tried to give him vinegar; in place of doctors he had mocking Roman soldiers; in place of nurses, there were two thieves. And the transplant was finished when they pierced his heart with a sword. But the remarkable thing was, despite all of the vilest circumstances, it worked! That heart, in fact his whole flesh and blood, became the source of every spiritual transplant of all time. We received that heart when we ourselves died in the baptismal font, when, as Ezechiel prophesied, clean water was sprinkled upon us, and we rose with a new heart, Christ’s. But that transplant becomes stronger and stronger every single time we stand around that operating room of Calvary, which is exactly what we do here at Mass, when we in time participate in that very same eternal event. And we receive a blood transfusion, taking within us the blood and flesh of Jesus himself that is meant to beat in our hearts and give life to everything thing we do.

9) And hence, this thanksgiving, we have so much more to be thankful for than even Megan! For were it not for the love of this Father and Son, in giving up the Son’s life so that we might live, all of life would be just a protracted process of waiting to die. But because of God’s love in creating us and then, when we by our actions, destroyed our spiritual health and lost our eternal life, his even greater love in sending his Son to die for us so that we might receive a new heart, we live and have the ability to live truly well and to live forever. And hence, like Megan, every Thanksgiving we need first to thank the one who made all of the other blessings possible, God, who continues to love us so much that every day he allows us to come here to this altar to receive another life-sustaining transfusion. The Eucharist means in Greek thanksgiving. Let’s thank him now for the greatest gift that the world has ever received, that each of us will ever receive! Amen.