Readings: Sirach 50:22-24; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19
Every year we dedicate this fourth Thursday in November to Thanksgiving and this might suggest to some that we neglect giving thanks for the rest of the year. And there is a sense in which this is true: ingratitude is something we are all guilty of and may even bring to confession–especially our ingratitude towards God. On this Thanksgiving Day, therefore, it might be helpful to try and identify some of the more important factors that help explain our ingratitude and that, to some degree, necessitates a special day set aside for the purpose of giving thanks.
The tiny infant nursing at its mother’s breast doesn’t thank its mother for the nourishment it receives–not because the infant is necessarily ungrateful, but rather because it is virtually oblivious of anything other than itself and its still primitive and all-absorbing physical needs. And while not as extreme as the nursling at the breast, there are many things we are blessed with on any given day that we are simply oblivious of and, so, don’t even consider giving thanks for. Things like the air we breathe, every beat of our heart, and something as simple as a night of restful sleep. Indeed, it is sometimes only when our health is impaired that we come to realize these blessings we had taken for granted.
Another and related area of ingratitude is linked to our sense of self-sufficiency and independence. For if we believe that we’ve accomplished something by our own hard effort and ingenuity, there seems little reason to thank anybody for this–not even God. When this attitude becomes habitual, however, it can develop into pride and vainglory that virtually extinguishes any sense of gratitude. This is not only because the proud person thinks that he or she has accomplished something by his or her own power and ability, but also because gratitude can be experienced as humiliating and creating a sense of inferiority or indebtedness to the one requiring our gratitude.
In suppressing a spirit of gratitude, pride also threatens to undermine our very humanity. For to be human is to be in relationship and in the absence of any meaningful relationships we become less than human. An absence of gratitude and a pervasive sense of prideful entitlement tends to render true and meaningful human relationships impossible and isolates and imprisons us in ourselves–not unlike Lucifer and the hell he created for himself. This is no less true in our relationship with God where ingratitude is one of the chief obstacles to that monastic quest for continual prayer and living all of life in conscious awareness of God. For the more aware we are of God’s presence and action in our lives, the more grateful we become for his obvious blessings; and then the more grateful we become for his blessings, the more keenly aware we become of his presence. And it is this reciprocal and mutually reinforcing relationship between gratitude and awareness of God’s presence that nudges us ever closer to living all of life in God. This movement towards continuous prayer then brings us to realize that the greatest gift God gives us is one that we’re receiving at every moment–namely, God’s gift of himself in love. And we also realize that our greatest act of thanksgiving is to give ourselves unreservedly in return.
May our reception of God’s gift of himself in the Eucharist this morning empower and free us to give ourselves unreservedly to him and to one another in this greatest and most important act of Thanksgiving.