Thursday November 22, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thanksgiving Day
Reading I (Sirach 50:22-24) Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)
Gospel (St. Luke 17:11-19)
Today, as our country takes time out from its hectic pace, we stop to give thanks to God. We really need to ask ourselves what the purpose of this day is for most people in America. We know, if we look back a couple of hundred years, that it was set aside truly to give thanks to God. But for many in our society today it is probably a day that they are just grateful they do not have to work – everyone except the cook, that is. And then, of course, there is the gratitude because it is just a day to relax and a day to have fun and a day to eat good food and all these different things. But all too often God is forgotten. Who is the One who provided all of the things for us?
How many blessings we have that we need to give thanks to God for. If we look through the Scriptures, we read many times over (hundreds of times, literally) about how we need to give thanks to the Lord, how we need to bless the Lord, how we need to glorify the Lord, and so on. It is not something that is optional for us. But when we look at the difference between what we are doing here today - coming this morning to give thanks to God as we begin our Day of Thanksgiving - as opposed to what many people in this society are doing today, we need to ask ourselves, "What is the difference?" The difference is that God is the center and that today is not just a day to be able to say, "Thank You, Lord, because we have a turkey and all kinds of good stuff. Thank You that we can all get together with the family," but it is, rather, thanking God not only for those blessings, but for all of the blessings that He has given to us: the blessing of life, the blessing of eternal life, of new life in Baptism, the blessing of the forgiveness of sins, and the blessing of the greatest gift of all: the thanksgiving sacrifice of the Eucharist. That word, again, as we all know means "Thanksgiving." Eucharistein - "to give thanks" - in Greek. It comes, actually, from right out of the Hebrew as part of the Passover meal: part of it was what they called the toda. Toda, in Hebrew, means "Thanksgiving." So the Lord, at the Passover meal, took the bread and gave thanks to God.
And so, too, how grateful we need to be. As Saint Paul reminded the Corinthians that he thanks God every day for them because of their faith and because God has blessed them so abundantly with all the gifts of knowledge and of faith and of all the things that God has given, each one of us needs to be grateful for those things - that God has given us faith in the midst of a society that is generally faithless, in the midst of a society that has gone completely astray from God. Have you ever stopped to think what a blessing it is that God has given you faith? That God has chosen you from all the people in this society and in this generation to believe in Him? And even from among all the Catholics and all the Christians, that we are the ones who have come to Him today to give Him thanks? It is a great temptation to be like the nine lepers who simply rejoiced in the gift that God had given them; that is, rejoiced for themselves. That is very easy to do on a day like this. Many people, as I mentioned already, will be rejoicing just because they have a day off, because they can sit in front of the TV set and watch a couple of football games, because they have a table filled with food and their bellies can be filled with food. They rejoice in their own pleasure, in their own comfort, in their own ease, rather than rejoicing in God who has provided this for them. The nine lepers, I think, were probably just as happy that they had been healed as the one who came back. But only one was there to thank God.
We recognize how much God has done for us: all of the blessings that He has given to us. And so we have come today, not only rejoicing that we have these blessings but to give thanks to God who has given us these blessings. That, in and of itself, is an extraordinary gift and we need to be grateful to God just for the gift to be grateful. What a blessing He has given to each one of us to be able to recognize that there is Someone beyond ourselves and that we are not the center of it all, but rather, that we need to come to Him and say "Thank You."
If you look in the Book of Leviticus, there are many laws that are laid out for the people to come to give what they called "a thanks offering to God." That is, when they recognized what God had given to them and they wanted to give an offering of thanksgiving, the way it was done was very specifically laid out. For Christian people, gratitude must be at the very center of our lives because of all the things that Jesus wanted to draw attention to, the one thing that He held up as the most important was this offering, this sacrifice of thanks that we need to give to God in the Eucharist. And so, as we gather today to thank God for all of the blessings that He has given to us (and as I do every Thanksgiving) do not forget to thank God for the sufferings, do not forget to thank God for the people who have made your life miserable this year - because of all the people, they are the ones who have helped you more than any to grow in virtue. Thank God for your friends, indeed, but they have not helped you nearly as much as the people whom you might not consider your friends. Thank Him for all of the suffering because it is through suffering alone that we are really able to grow the most in holiness. So do not shun those things, but embrace them and thank Him. As we come to the Eucharist today, as we now go forward to offer this sacrifice of thanks to God, take all of those sufferings and all of the sacrifices, as well as all of your gratitude, and put them on the paten, put them in the chalice. Offer them to God in union with the suffering and the gratitude of Jesus Christ, as the one pure sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, our spiritual worship.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.