BISHOP JAMES T. SCHUERMAN
A priest I met years ago told me of a time in his life when he underwent a great transformation. He had neglected his health for a long time and, as a result, became so ill that eventually he could not function in his ministry. His whole routine of celebrating the Mass, preaching, visiting the sick, presiding at funerals and celebrating weddings was put on hold.
Fortunately, his illness served as a wakeup call, and he sought the help that he badly needed. After a long period of treatment, he recovered and went back to his ministry with new vigor and a spirit of joy. He shared with me something that has always stuck in my mind. He said, “If I had my way, Thanksgiving Day would be a holy day of obligation.” His point, of course, was that as a man healed and transformed, he was profoundly grateful to God for his health and his ability to minister. Every day he offered thanks, and Thanksgiving Day was a reminder to him to continue to nurture an “attitude of gratitude.”
The Sacred Scriptures are filled with passages that inspire us to be grateful to God. Sirach reminds us to be thankful for our earthly and material blessings: “And now, bless the Lord of all, who has done wondrous things on earth … May he grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you; may his good toward us endure in Israel as long as the heavens are above.” (Sirach 50:22a; 23-24)
We are grateful for the gifts of family, home, food, clothing and all good gifts that bring comfort. All the good gifts we receive in life should awaken our consciousness to the goodness of God.
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, shows us the importance of giving thanks to God for our spiritual blessings. He writes: “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way … He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-5a; 8)
We are grateful for our faith and for the grace and blessings God gives us as we make our journey through life to our heavenly home. We are blessed with the Sacred Scriptures, the Sacraments and a rich tradition of prayer to help us experience the presence of God in our midst.
The Gospel of Luke tells us the story of Jesus, who was journeying through Samaria and Galilee, when he entered a village and encountered 10 lepers. In the time of Jesus, those who had leprosy not only suffered the physical effects of the disease, but also the social effects. As lepers, they were outcasts. For fear of contagion, they were not permitted to live with their families, work their jobs, partake in community activities or worship in the synagogues or the Temple. They lost all connection to everyone and everything, and existed by begging on the fringes of society. In this story, the 10 lepers called out to Jesus for his help. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and, on the way, they realized they had been cured. One of the 10, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus, giving thanks. What happened to the other nine? They probably went straight to the Temple, the place of blessing, to get a clean bill of health from the priests so they could return to their families, friends and places of employment. The Samaritan, who did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, but rather on Mount Gerizim in Samaria, decided to return to Jesus, the true Temple, to give thanks. He recognized the source of all blessing – Jesus the Lord. (Luke 17:11-19)
The season of Thanksgiving provides us the opportunity to reflect on our lives and count our blessings. We thank God for the gifts of health, family and community. We are grateful for our ability to work and study. We give thanks for being able to enjoy and savor life.
During this time of year when we celebrate abundance, we ask God to help us be generous with what we have and to make us instruments of justice for those, who go without the good things we so often take for granted.
In this time of Thanksgiving, let us contemplate the words of Psalm 145:
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
The Lord is good to all
compassionate to every creature.
All your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and your faithful bless you.
They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your great works. (Psalm 145:8-11)