Giving Thanks

As we celebrate Thanksgiving next week, we here at The Anchor think it is important for us all to remember to Whom we are to be thankful and how it is that we are to give thanks. Most Americans are conscious of the roots of the holiday — in the thanksgiving that the Pilgrims gave to God for having survived their first year in Plymouth, even though many of their fellow colonists had died over that year. They knew that good things and bad happen in this life and that they needed to be thankful for God’s presence everyday of their lives.

There is an expression which is often said in African-American and/or Protestant circles. One person will say, “God is good.” And another person (or a whole congregation) will respond, “All the time.” Sometimes the “God is good” phrase is said in reaction to something which went well in the speaker’s life, while the response reminds the speaker that even when things are going terribly, God remains good. Heather Spring Gilion wrote a blog in the dancingonmyashes.com website (we need Andy Rooney back from the dead to analyze the names of websites) on Sept. 18, 2013 entitled, “Is God really good all the time?” She spoke about her experience of having her father (at age 49) die shortly after her wedding and then her husband and brother-in-law dying nine months later in a canoeing accident (sounds like she stole this from the Old Testament book of Ruth, but this was all too real for her).  

Heather said that during the nine months between these two tragedies, “I could not reconcile my pain with His all-the-time good. I was broken. I was sad … I was prideful to think that He owed me a life of ease — of no hardships ...  My response to my father’s death flushed out this belief: I knew better than God. He should’ve healed my father, for crying out loud! He messed up.” (She sounds a little like St. Martha after Lazarus’ death — “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.”)

Heather’s husband, James, kept trying to get her to trust in God again, but then he and his brother-in-law died. “This was my breaking point with God. I was ready to once and for all denounce my faith … I didn’t like Him and didn’t want to have anything to do with a God like this. I remember standing alone on a hillside in Vermont. Well …  not quite alone. The Creator of the universe was there. I was broken and dealing with the kind of pain that makes me want to throw up even now. Today, 13 years later, I still struggle with putting words to this moment because something happened to me on that hillside. I stood before God feeling justified in all my accusations, but as mad as I was that He would let this happen, I could not deny that God was near and that He cared.”

Heather could say this because she had a foundation of faith below all of her hurt. This is not to say that people of faith cannot renounce God because of what they (or people about whom they care) have suffered. As Heather describes in her website, God is always reaching out to us, but often our bitterness or pain or other distractions keep us from “hearing” Him. The Pilgrims (although they had a faith which was very hostile to anything which smacked of Catholicism, in part due to the bad example of some of our fellow Catholics back then, in part because of their difficulty understanding our doctrines) did have a faith in Christ which helped them to understand that the cross would be a part of their lives. They understood that God is good all the time and they wanted to thank Him for being good to them.

Pope Francis spoke of thanksgiving on a date we don’t normally associate with it — last Ash Wednesday. He said, “Awareness of the marvels that the Lord has wrought for our Salvation disposes our minds and hearts to an attitude of thanksgiving to God for all that He has given us, for all that He has accomplished for the good of His people and for the whole of humanity. This marks the beginning of our conversion: it is the grateful response to the stupendous mystery of God’s love. When we see the love that God has for us, we feel the desire to draw close to Him: this is conversion.” Heather and the Pilgrims had an understanding of this reality. Do we? Do we realize that the ultimate reason that the phrase “God is good” is true is because of the Salvation He has won for us? Does this realization move us to give thanks to God and to change our lives?

February 5 of this year the Holy Father spoke about the best way in which we can give thanks (a way which the Pilgrims did not understand). “Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper is the ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for His love, for His mercy. ‘Thanksgiving’ in Greek is expressed as ‘Eucharist.’ And that is why the Sacrament is called the Eucharist: it is the supreme thanksgiving to the Father, Who so loved us that He gave us His Son out of love …  [T]he Eucharistic celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is exactly the memorial of Jesus’ Paschal sacrifice, the mystery at the center of Salvation. ‘Memorial’ does not simply mean a remembrance, a mere memory; it means that every time we celebrate this Sacrament we participate in the mystery of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is the summit of God’s saving action: the Lord Jesus, by becoming bread broken for us, pours upon us all of His mercy and His love, so as to renew our hearts, our lives and our way of relating with Him and with the brethren. It is for this reason that commonly, when we approach this Sacrament, we speak of ‘receiving Communion,’ of ‘taking Communion’: this means that by the power of the Holy Spirit, participation in Holy Communion conforms us in a singular and profound way to Christ, giving us a foretaste already now of the full communion with the Father that characterizes the Heavenly banquet.”

The pope then said something which we can apply to our celebration next week: “We don’t ever thank Lord enough for the gift He has given us in the Eucharist! It is a very great gift and that is why it is so important to go to Mass on Sunday. Go to Mass not just to pray, but to receive Communion, the bread that is the Body of Jesus Who saves us, forgives us, unites us to the Father. It is a beautiful thing to do!”

Many parishes will have Mass next Wednesday night or Thursday morning for us to give thanks to God. Even if you cannot go then, please take the time when you do go this week to unite yourself to Christ’s thanksgiving in the Paschal Mystery, so as to grow in the belief that God is good all the time.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts