The wellspring of thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving Day: Nov. 22, 2012
Sir 50:22-24; Ps 145; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19

A week or two ago, I received the latest newsletter from the Saint Luke Institute, which helps priests and religious sisters who have run into psychological difficulties. And the article on the front page was written by none other than Fr. Hugh Lagan SMA (who was recently resident in this parish for a couple years and is a member of their clinical staff). In this article, he spoke about “positive psychology,” which, rather than focusing upon psychological illness, instead studies what it takes for human beings to grow and function well and thrive. Toward the end of the article, he passed on two specific tips:

  • Count your blessings: Every evening for one week, write down three things that went well during the day. This can help refocus your thoughts on the positive, rather than the negative, and enhance your well-being.
  • Make a gratitude visit: Identify someone from your past who did or said something that changed your life, but whom you never thanked. Write a letter of gratitude, being specific about what the person did and the impact on you, then visit the person and read it to him or her.

When I looked up more about the “gratitude visit” online, I saw that it had been found that a person who made such a gratitude visit, as well as the person who received it, were found to be happier and less likely to be depressed for months afterward. And indeed that these practices serve to refocus our attention—so that, instead of being focused upon the material things that we don’t have, we become focused upon what we do have; and our focus moves from material things to the blessings of relationships, which is what are shown to make us happiest. So being conscious of the blessings we have received and expressing thanks for them helps to make us happy and psychologically healthy!

And this should not surprise us when we consider what comes from our very roots, as we are taught by our Catholic faith. For we see that, from all eternity, God is a Trinity of divine Persons, living in a perfect communion of infinite love, giving and receiving one from another. And when God created all that is, he did not do so out of any sort of necessity, as if he needed to or gained anything by it; but he did so utterly freely, utterly out of love. God created to show forth his glory—to share his goodness with his creatures. He created us to receive; and he created us human beings in his Image and Likeness, able to receive him; to know him, to love him, the infinite God.

Interestingly, we read that in ancient Mesopotamia—that cradle of Western civilization that is today’s Iraq and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Syria—where the religious beliefs involved a very different view of the gods and creation, their hymns hardly ever expressed thanksgiving; whereas in the Bible thanksgiving is very frequent, drawing out “powerful outpourings of the soul.” And if this was present throughout the Old Testament, it deepens profoundly with the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For from all eternity, he is the Son of the Father, who “receives everything from the Father, and gives everything back to the Father in love.” (Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 16) His Sonship was the core of who he knew himself to be; and therefore he responded in thanksgiving. How often he withdrew from the crowds to pray privately; but, on those occasions when the Gospel records him praying aloud in others’ presence, he begins by giving thanks and praise to the Father. (CCC 2603-04) And this was not only words occasionally spoken; it was

the drive of all his life and that of his death: thanksgiving from the heart of the Son… all his life was an incessant thanksgiving… to draw men to believe and return thanks to God with him. (Xavier Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “Thanksgiving,” pp. 598-600)

And so how appropriate it was that, as the fundamental act of his union with us, he instituted the Eucharist—which, taken directly from the Greek, means “thanksgiving.” So that, as we are joined to him, adopted into his Sonship, we also should be drawn into that return of thanksgiving to the Father that characterized his life, and so characterizes our life in him.

And so today, as on Sundays and feast days, we began by singing the Gloria, which says, near its beginning: We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory. Thus begins the Mass, the Eucharist.

And when we come to the climax of the Eucharist, in the Eucharistic Prayer, how does it begin? “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right and just.” “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks…” And what follows in the Preface is always particular reasons for giving thanks. It seems that we never run out of them!—in this great spectrum of prefaces, for different liturgical days and seasons, always some different facet of the many reasons to give thanks.

And how many reasons do we have to give thanks? Like everyone around us in our nation, we have the blessings we have received: of family and friends; of shelter, food, drink, and clothing; of learning and experiences. And we who are in Christ have still more, as we thank God for our Creation, for our Redemption, for all that Christ has done for us; for all that we were rescued from, and all that we were brought into, in his great Redemption; for the gift of the Holy Spirit and of our sanctification. It is no wonder that St. Paul urges us to give thanks in all circumstances! (1 Thess 5:18)

And so we give thanks for all the blessings that we know we have received; and even for those which we do not yet know: those which we overlook each day, and even those which are hidden. For St. Paul also writes, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28); and so, even in difficult circumstances and pain, we can affirm in faith that we are receiving blessings even then; and one day we will find out what they were.

And so it is that St. Therese said that “All is grace.” All is a gift! And so our lives, more and more, can be all thanksgiving.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!” “It is right and just!”

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