Thursday November 27, 2003 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)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear the story of the ten lepers and the one foreigner who came to give thanks to God. It reminds us of just how much we can take God for granted. The things that we become accustomed to we sometimes do not think too much about, and yet the gratitude is supposed to be always, first and foremost, in our minds. When we think about the very things that one can do with prayer, it is to adore God, it is to give Him thanks, it is to tell Him that we are sorry, and it is to ask for favors that we need. Far too often, for most of us, prayer is nothing more than the last – and that is really where it belongs: the last. The adoration and the gratitude to God need to be the very first and foremost things in our minds because to fail to say “thank you” is in essence to refuse or reject the gift, and, of course, it is a disrespect to the giver of the gift.
Sometimes what happens when we are dealing with God is that we recognize there are some things for which we should give thanks and then there are other things for which we do just the opposite. But I would recommend that if we really looked very carefully at the situation, the things for which most of us are going to be most readily willing to give thanks are the very things for which we should not, and the things that we do not want to thank God for are really the things that we should. For instance, we could understand that the leper who was healed came back to thank God. His leprosy was healed; he could now be part of society once again; he had great reason for rejoicing and giving thanks to God. The real question is did he give thanks to God when he got the leprosy? My suspicion is probably not. It gives us reason to stop as we look back over the year and ask ourselves, “How many things do we have to be thankful to God for?” Of course, they are countless. Everyday they are countless. For every breath that we are able to take, for every sound of a little child’s voice, for the beauty of all God’s creation, for everything that He does for us day in and day out. But, again, I would recommend that we stop and think a little deeper and say, “Are we grateful for the things that most of us would want to reject?” The people in our lives who are difficult, the circumstances that we do not like, the things that we find to be quite a pain that we have to endure and that we do not like, those are the things that we really need to be grateful for because those are the things above all else that will make us saints. Those are the things that are going to purify our faith, as well as our patience, our meekness, our charity, our hope and all the other virtues. When one has a life that is very easy – and that is the American way – we tend to get spoiled rather badly and we tend to take things for granted.
Saint Paul, for instance, in the second reading told the people of Corinth that they were endowed with every spiritual gift and that God would keep them faithful to the end. When it comes right down to it, is there anything more important than that? How often do we thank God for all those things? What most of us want is more. We look at it and say, “Well, I don’t have this or that spiritual gift.” But most of us, if we are interested in getting spiritual gifts (charismatic gifts, for instance) it is not to serve God and His people, it is for ourselves. It is because we want people to see us; we want them to think how wonderful we are. God is not going to do that for us because He knows we would lose our salvation is that is the case. And so, in that case, we need to be very grateful to God that He did not give us these extraordinary gifts because they would be harmful to us. But He has given us absolutely everything we need in order to get to heaven; and, above all, that is what we need to be grateful for.
Now I suspect that if we even stop to think about why we should be grateful for the society in which we live, most of us would think of things like indoor plumbing, central air conditioning, forced air heating, all the amenities of life, fancy cars with all the gadgets and buttons and all the nice things, all the fancy equipment that we have to run everything these days. I would submit that what we really need to be thankful for is that we have an opportunity to suffer for our faith in this society, not for how easy life is, but the fact that we have an opportunity to make a stand for God, that we live in a society which is godless and in the midst of that godlessness God has given to each one of us the gift of faith. For that gift we must be eternally grateful. And we have an opportunity to put it into practice, not that it is easy because everyone else around us is putting it into practice – because it is not – but precisely because we have to make that choice to live our faith, to put it into practice in a pagan society, to be ridiculed and rejected for our faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, in the Beatitudes it is then that the Lord says that we should rejoice and be glad. If you think about the Beatitudes, the things that most of us would be grateful for are the things that God tells us we should be feeling woe for: “Woe to you rich…woe to you who are full…woe to you who are comforted.” You see, the things most Americans would be grateful for are the things that are going to lead us away from heaven. and the things most of us want to scream at God for and be angry about are the things that are going to lead us to heaven.
And so, while, yes, we need to thank God for all the many blessings, for all the wonderful things that He does for us (and even sometimes we can thank Him for the ease and the comfort) above all we need to thank Him for the struggle, for the difficulties, for the fact that we have an opportunity to make the choice to live our faith in a society that has chosen against God and to thank God for the time in which we live. As the novel started: “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” That is today. It is the worst time in human history to be alive, on one level; and it is the best time in human history to be alive because we have an opportunity to truly be Catholic, to truly live our faith, to put it into practice, and to be able to see the power of God at work in a world that has rejected Him. What an incredible gift God has given us life in these days and in this country because we have an opportunity to be counter-cultural, to make a stand for God when most have turned their back on Him. For that we need to be exceedingly grateful. We have to recognize that we are that one leper, that of all the people who have been baptized into Jesus Christ, of all the people who know what can be known of God, there is only a very, very small handful that are willing to put their faith into practice and to come to God to say “thank you” for the gifts He has given.
So I thank you for your fidelity to God. I thank you for your fine example of living out the Faith which is an encouragement to those around you, and it is an encouragement to me and to the other priests to be able to see good and faithful people who are putting their faith into practice. We are very, very grateful to you for your faith, for your prayer, for your goodness, for your fine example. I can only encourage you to keep that up because things are going to become more difficult as we move forward and we need to be more grateful than ever to God for our faith and for the grace to be able not only to believe in Him but to live according to His Will. That is the greatest gift of all in this world because it leads us to the gift which is beyond all others – that is, to eternity with God – and there is nothing else that is worthwhile. So continue to live your faith. But in all things, in the good times and in the bad, give thanks to God for everything through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.