|The first Thanksgiving in America - Florida, 1585|
I would argue that our holiday today can be used as a proof for the existence of God. We Americans enjoy giving thanks on this day each year for anything and everything. Yet, to whom do we give thanks? You cannot thank the universe for giving you all your blessings; it is incapable of orchestrating such giving on its own. We cannot thank each other alone; certainly, some of our blessings come from our family, our friends, and our neighbors, but they are not the primary source. Thus, I would posit that God must exist as the ultimate source of receiving our thanks, the Gift Giver who has provided us with the first gift, the great voice which would echo back through the cosmos, “You’re welcome.”
While it may not be the strongest or greatest of the divine proofs, I think it may be one that still has some resonance with our society today. We still love to get together in our families on this day, to celebrate this occasion with those whom we love, and to be thankful for what the past year has brought us. However, I think many people have lost sight of who is the One we should above all thank for not only the blessings and joys of the past year, but for even the ability to give thanks.
It is not that people are thanking God on Thanksgiving Day, but that it seems to be the only day when people thank Him. Perhaps we may take an occasional moment or two to offer a quick thanks, especially when we have gotten through something hard or stressful, but, in general, we tend to save a greater part of our thanksgiving for this day. The Christian, though, is not restricted to this one day or a few moments, but indeed should live a life filled with thanksgiving.
This Christian attitude of thanksgiving is one of the oldest commands given to us by Saint Paul, as we heard in our alleluia verse. The first letter to the Thessalonians is usually considered the oldest text in the New Testament, and near the end, the Apostle gives a series of commands to the church in Thessalonica, telling them to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in all circumstances give thanks, for that is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:16-18). Saint Paul, in fact, seems to be saying that this command to give thanks at all times is not from himself, but that it comes from Christ, as we hear in our Gospel today.
Ten lepers are healed by Our Lord, yet only one returns, glorifying God “in a loud voice” and thanking Jesus for his healing. Saint Luke is insistent that only this one realizes that he is healed and then returns to the feet of Christ. The other nine lepers seem to be too fixed on the command of Christ instead of marvelling at the gift of Christ’s healing. It is a tale that can echo either way in the life of the Christian. For we are like those lepers; we were born with a terrible disease upon our souls, a disfiguring condition worse than the ravages of leprosy upon the body. We were born under original sin, and each of us is incapable of removing this disease, this condition by our own actions. Hence, we too cry out to Jesus saying, “Have pity on us!”
And He has done just that; through the hands of the priest, through the cleansing waters of baptism, each of us has been cleansed spiritually of original sin and has been made pure by Christ. For this, we should emulate the Samaritan leper and prostrate ourselves before Jesus our Divine Physician and give Him thanks for His cure. This is the attitude that Christians have held since the time of Saint Paul, fulfilling his command to give thanks in all circumstances. And Christians have done it through one particular action performed by Christ and continually re-presented to us down through the centuries: the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Why is it that we call the Mass the “Eucharist?” It is because that word comes from the Greek word which means “thanksgiving.” Every Mass is seen by the Church as not only the re-presentation of the immolation of Christ upon the Cross for our sins, but it is at the same time the one supreme act of thanksgiving offered by the People of God for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. At every Mass, we fulfill the words of the Psalmist who commands us, in union with Saint Paul, to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps 117:1). And it is in uniting ourselves to that perfect sacrifice made by Christ our High Priest that we are able to truly give thanks to the Lord for His ever-enduring mercy upon us.
The life of the Christian, then, should be continually filled with thanksgiving. He should be thankful for the great mercy of God won for him through the death of Christ; for the mercy which is still offered to him daily in the sacraments; for every grace given to him by God so as to follow the call of Christ towards holiness; for every blessing given to him in his daily life, whether great or small. Even when the Christian sins and fails to live up to the command of holiness, he should give thanks that God does not abandon him to his wickedness but offers to him anew through confession the opportunity for a fresh start. The Christian is meant to be a person of thanks, a thanks-giver as it were, rejoicing in all that the Lord has done for him, is currently doing for him, and will do for him.
Let us certainly make this day a great day of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for us this year. But let us strive to be more thankful every day, most especially when we assist at the Mass - our greatest act of thanksgiving. Let us receive the Eucharist in a spirit of thanks, reveling in the marvels of what the Lord has done us. Let us not be like the nine in our Gospel who do not give thanks to Jesus for His healing, but let us imitate the Samaritan who returned to glorify God for all that Christ had done for him. Let us give thanks to the Lord now and all the rest of our days, so that we may be prepared for the eternal feast of thanksgiving which awaits us in the bounties of Heaven.