Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving & Eucharist

     As we close this “Thanksgiving Day” Weekend I think that it is worth our while to reflect on “thanksgiving”, particularly as it relates to our Christian vocation.  This is an exercise in which I engage myself every year because one of the things I’ve come to realize is that the virtue of gratitude, which is at the root of thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving) is more than simply meeting a social expectation.
     I begin by recalling that the word for “thanksgiving” in the ancient Greek is eucaristia.  Yes!  It is the same root from which we get the Eucharist.  And why is the most important and powerful prayer that we offer a “thanksgiving” prayer?  That would be worth another whole reflection!  But suffice it to point out that from the preface dialogue (The Lord be with you – and with your spirit; Lift up your hearts – we lift them up to the Lord; Let us give thanks to the Lord our God – it is right and just) to the great Amen is one big prayer of thanksgiving for the salvation offered to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In the new translation of the Mass this will be brought out somewhat more clearly – even from the opening dialogue quoted above.  We recognize from beginning to end that it is not only right but also just that we should give thanks to Him from whom we receive all that is good.  Even before that, in the offertory prayers we will recognize even more clearly that the very gifts offer in thanksgiving are themselves gifts to us from God.  This is only right since in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Whom is it that we offer to God but Jesus Christ crucified?  Thus, we begin to recognize more and more clearly that the motive for our participation in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass is precisely the virtue of gratitude.
     Reflecting back on the story I told in my homily of two weeks ago, it becomes ever more a conviction in my heart that we are called to recognize all that we have, including our very lives, as a gift which has been given to us as a sacred trust by our very loving God and Father.  When we come to this realization and really live it I am convinced that we will find in ourselves the same courage that motivated the saints.  Their ability to always do what was necessary, regardless of how difficult or humbling, clearly comes from a recognition that our lives are not ours to do with as we will, but rather are given to us so that we might be perfected in the virtues, gratitude in particular, which lead us to the greatest virtue of all – LOVE.  This past week, Thursday, we celebrated the Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  She was a princess and yet she established hospitals in her own castles and fed the sick and the needy by her own hand.  When asked about it by one of his friends, her beloved husband, Blessed Louise, answered that he wished he had more castles to give her that she might turn them into hospitals as well.  Wow!
     It is true that we have a right to enjoy the fruits of our labor, our hard work, and I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday.  Maybe even a good number of you have already been successful in getting a deer!  I pray that even as we have celebrated, relaxed, recreated, and just generally enjoyed the fruits of our labor that we have at once recognized that as hard as we have worked, they are still a wondrous gift from a God who loves us and they are all to be used to build up His kingdom of Love.
     Finally, I would reflect on the fact that while Thanksgiving Day has come and gone for another year, in a very real way EVERY DAY is a day of thanksgiving in the Catholic Church.  That is why the Mass is offered everyday on altars around the world and within our three parishes.  As Advent begins, maybe you could look over our weekly Mass schedule and see if you might not be able to join us, even just once during the work week, as we give thanks to God who has given us all that is good.