Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanksgiving, and not the turkey kind

28th Sunday OT Year C

Today we hear of the Samaritan leper returning to Jesus to give thanks. All of Christian life is a life of thanksgiving. In fact, I would go even further, that all of human existence finds its meaning in thanksgiving. It is so important to be thankful.

I am reminded of a time when I was in the seminary. One day I received a package in the mail. This package was a care-package from the youth group I was a part of before I entered seminary. Inside there were snacks, cookies, and other little things meant to brighten my day. I opened the box in the mailroom, and there was another seminarian in that room. I don't remember exactly what I said, but at some point I said: "I need to send out a thank you note after getting a box like this." He looked at me a bit puzzled and said: "I never do that." What? "I never send out thank you notes." I was shocked, and a little disgusted. This guy was a deacon, which meant he was less than a year away from being a priest. He had been in the seminary for years and must have received countless boxes, gifts, cards, etc, and he never once sent a thank you note. I was really troubled by this. Thanksgiving is essential to what it means to be Christian, how would he be able to preach this message if he never gave thanks.

What does it mean to give thanks? It is actually a process. First comes the gift. I received a gift from the youth group. This means that I have to recognize it as a gift. No one had to give me anything. When that youth group decided to send me a present, they did so out of love. I recognize that it was a free gift, and I accept it. This recognition and acceptance is essential. The next step is a reciprocation of love. When we find ourselves in the presence of love, it should make us want to return love. A thank you note is a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it says that I have recognized the gift, accepted the gift as a gift of love, then I have shown my love and appreciation by reciprocating this gift in whatever way possible.

Apply this on a grand scale: We are not responsible for our existence. Everything we have comes from God. I did not make myself. I am also not responsible for my continued existence. Nothing I have really came from me: my intuition, work-ethic, creativity, vocation, everything. Every breath you take, every dollar you make, every minute of your life is a pure gift from God.

[The following section will not be read at Mass, but I want to post it on my blog As many of you know, I am the Chaplain to Marian High School. These past two weeks have been very trying. I ask you please to keep Marian's students, staff, and faculty in your prayers. About two weeks ago, a student died, she was only 16 years old. This past week a Mother of 5, two of whom are current students of Marian, died in her sleep. Just yesterday I attended the funeral. There has been much sadness and many heavy hearts at Marian over the past two weeks. Yet, even these experiences teach us, in a mysterious way, to be thankful. There are no guarantees in life. Every day is a gift. Every person is a gift.]

What to do with a gift? First we recognize it. The more we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, the more we will appreciate it. When we recognize a gift, it is important to accept it. We see everything around us as a gift that comes from God, and we know that he gives us these gifts out of love. When we experience God's love, the only appropriate response is love, the appropriate response is thanksgiving. When we recognize that God gives us everything out of his life-giving love, the appropriate response is self-donation. When we give of ourselves to others, we are returning God's gift of love. When we gather here to worship almighty God, we are returning God's gift of love.

The leper in the gospel understood the appropriate response to Jesus' gift of healing was to return and give thanks. Naaman in the first reading took this even one step further, he recognized that to give thanks to the God who saved him meant that he needed to worship God. But, why did Naaman need to take that dirt?

Let me return to my story. Do you think that seminarian who refused to send thank you notes was thankful? I think he probably was. But, what was missing? He never expressed his thanksgiving. Naaman took that dirt because he knew that God dwelt in Israel. He knew that if he were going to worship that God, he could not simply do so internally. He understood the connection between worship and thanksgiving. For him to give thanks, he had to express his internal gratitude with external praise.

It is not coincidence that Christians named the Blessed Sacrament Eucharist. The very word means thanksgiving in Greek. When we gather here, every Sunday, we give thanks to God. Is there any wonder we are drawn to the Eucharist? The worship we render to God here at the Mass is the very thanksgiving we offer to God for all that he has given us. But, God is not to be outdone in generosity. When we recognize that everything we are and everything we have are gifts that come from God, and when we accept these things as gifts of love, we come here to give God thanks and praise. God goes one step further, he gives us the Eucharist, the body and blood of his son, the greatest gift of all.

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