Thursday November 24, 2005 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 second reading today from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that he gives thanks to God the Father always in his prayers for them, and then goes on to explain to them why they need to be so grateful to God; that among them there are no spiritual gifts that are lacking, that God has provided for them in all ways. So too it is with us. God provides for His Church everything we need, but the problem most of us have is that we do not recognize the spiritual gifts. We live in this very materialistic and scientific age; consequently, we miss the things that are spiritual. Yet, at the same time, what we have to be able to see is that even if we are perhaps overlooking some of the particular gifts that God has given, we still need to be able to see the greater gift, which is obviously what you are recognizing because of your very presence here today. The greatest gift that God has given to each one of us, beyond life itself, is faith, faith in Him in this society which does not recognize God or does not think it needs God, the fact that the Lord has placed into our hearts the faith to be able to recognize our dependence upon Him and the grace to be able to recognize that we need to come before Him like this leper from the Gospel reading and say, “Thank You.”
If we go back some two hundred and thirty years, we recognize that the early pilgrims were people fleeing religious persecution, people who were fleeing a society that had become exceedingly decadent and very immoral, and they were looking to be able to practice their faith. Among these early pilgrims, recall, were many Catholics, those who founded, for instance, the states of Maryland and Virginia–both named after our Blessed Lady by Catholics who came to America. The first religious who came to America came in 1776. It was a community of Carmelite nuns who came to the New World to be able to lay a spiritual foundation. The very essence of what our founding fathers came for was to practice their faith, and it is that faith that we have to be so grateful to God for because now it is we who in fact live in a society that is similar to the one they were trying to flee. We live in a society where they are trying to push God out of society, but how grateful we must be that the Lord has given to us the grace to recognize Him, to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.
We also need to be grateful even for the society in which we live, not because it is so decadent but because there has never been a better time to be a saint. There has never been an easier time to be a saint. This is what we need to be grateful for. If we can simply maintain our faith–which is not so simple–but if we can maintain our faith in the midst of this society, we can become saints. We can become great saints, lights shining in the darkness of this world.
Saint Paul tells us that we are to give thanks to God the Father in everything we do. That is something we all need to look at. Do we recognize that in everything we need to be grateful? There are so many things we do that we think we can do all by ourselves: “I really don’t need God to do this thing or that thing because I can handle it myself.” Remember that even the talents and abilities you have are God-given. Certainly, we have had to work at developing those abilities, but God is the One Who gave them in the first place. So to say, “I can do this all by myself,” no we cannot. We cannot do it unless we have the ability which is given by God, so we still need to thank God even for those abilities. We need to thank Him for every breath that we can take, because if He did not provide for us to be able to have the oxygen, we would not even be alive! Again, we begin to see why Jesus says, Without Me you can do nothing. We could not even take a breath without Him.
Everything is a gift, even the things that do not look to us like the gifts we would give to somebody we love, because sometimes they are not very pleasant. Things happen in our lives which, in fact, are pretty rotten. When was the last time we thanked God for those? Most of us probably look up at Him and have some things to say that are not very prayerful, are they? But we are supposed to give thanks to God just the way Jesus did before He suffered and during His suffering.
Again, we see how God is providing for each one of us to become saints. That is what we need to be most grateful for because the faith by itself, excellent as it is, is not an end in itself. Heaven is the end. Union with God is the end. If we have been able to recognize this gift then we need to be able to come to Him and to thank Him, which of course we are doing right here and now in the most profound and perfect way. The word Eucharist, remember, is the Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” So we are here offering the sacrifice of thanks to God, offering the perfect sacrifice which brings the grace of God to us and gives Him the greatest honor and glory. But it is not just here in church that we are to do this; this is to be the pattern for every single aspect of our lives so that in all we do we give thanks to God the Father through Jesus Christ Our Lord. That is the direction Saint Paul gives us. That is to be what our lives are all about. In everything, no matter what it is that happens in our day-to-day lives, we need to say “Thank You,” and we need to recognize that absolutely everything that happens in our lives, no matter how good or bad they may seem at the time, are all gifts from God and they are all designed to help us grow in holiness and become great saints.
If we can keep our focus on God, it will help to put a perspective onto everything else and then we can do exactly what we have been told to do, to come back to Him, to thank Him, and then even at the moment in absolutely everything to give thanks to God the Father through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.