True Thanksgiving Isn’t Just Something We Do; It’s Something That Happens to Us

thanksgiving-2016One of the dangers in presenting New Testament moral teaching is reducing the Gospel to a moralism, a rule to follow using the power of one’s own flesh. This is an incorrect notion because for a Christian, the moral life is not merely achieved; it is received. The moral life is not an imposition; it is a gift from God.

The Gospel chosen for Thanksgiving Day features the familiar story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus, but only one of whom returns to thank Him. The ingratitude of the other nine prompts an irritable response from Jesus, who more than suggests that they also should have returned to give thanks. Reading this Gospel on the surface, it is easy to conclude that it is a moralism about being thankful to God and others. Well, that’s all well and good, but simply reminding people of a rule of polite society isn’t really the Gospel.

True thankfulness is receiving from God a deeply grateful heart so that we do not merely say thank you in a perfunctory way, but are deeply moved with gratitude. We are not merely being polite or justly rendering a debt of obligation; we actually are grateful from the heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift from God, which proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. We do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. This is the Gospel. It is not a moralism, but a truth of a transformed heart.

An anointing that we should seek from God is the powerful transformation of our intellect and heart such that we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that is everything we have. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything—literally everything—is a gift from God.

Permit me a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening awareness of gratitude. Ultimately, gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of the intellectual basis for it can help to open us more fully to this gift.

  1. We are contingent beings who depend upon God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell, every part of every cell, every molecule, every part of every molecule, every atom, every part of every atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every movement of our body. God sustains every detail of the universe: the perfectly designed orbit of Earth so that we do not overheat or freeze, the magnetic shield around Earth protecting us from the harmful aspects of solar radiation, and every process (visible and hidden) of everything on our planet, in our solar system, and in our galaxy. All of this, and us, are contingent; we are sustained by God and provided for by Him. The magnitude of what God does is simply astonishing—and He does it all free of charge! Pondering such goodness and providence helps us to be more grateful.
  2. Every good thing we do is a gift from God. St. Paul said, What have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7) Elsewhere, he wrote, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God; they are His gift to us. On judgment day we cannot say to God, “Look what I’ve done; you owe me Heaven.” All we can say on that day is “Thank you!”
  3. Gifts sometimes come in strange packages. There are some gifts of God that do not seem like gifts at all. There are sudden losses, tragedies, natural disasters, and the like. In such moments we can feel forsaken by God; gratitude is the last thing on our mind. But Scripture bids us to look again: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good, something better. He is paving a path to glory—perhaps through the cross—but unto glory. We may have questions, but remember that Jesus said, But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines, and make a way out of no way.
  4. Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is gift. Even our failures are gifts, provided we are in Christ and learn humility from them. For what shall we give thanks? Everything! There is an old saying, “Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve.” Like you, I am asked many times a day, “How are you doing?” I’ve trained myself to respond, “More blessed than I deserve.”
  5. The word “thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. In Latin and the Romance languages, the words for thanks are more closely related to the concepts of grace and gift. In Latin, one says thank you by saying, “Gratias ago tibi,” or simply, “Gratias.” And although gratias is translated as “thanks,” it is really the same root word as that of “grace” and “gift,” which in Latin are rendered as “gratia.” Hence in saying this, one is exclaiming, “Grace!” or “Gifts!” It is the same in Spanish (Gracias) and Italian (Grazie). French has a slightly different approach: Merci comes from the Latin merces, which refers to something that has been paid for or given freely. So all of these languages recognize that the things for which we are grateful are really gifts. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connection. About the closest we get in English are the words “gratitude” and “grateful.” All of these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, gratitude) teach us that everything is gift!

Gratitude is a gift to be received from God and should be asked for humbly. One can dispose oneself to it by reflecting on some of the things described above, but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite, and transformed heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that springs from a heart moved, astonished, and deeply aware of the fact that all is gift.

The Origin of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

The Thanksgiving holiday that is upon us, while religious in theme, has a secular origin. Two presidents, Washington and Lincoln, are most responsible for its existence on our national calendar in late November. Here is President Washington’s proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”:

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789

George Washington, President

This is Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Yes, there once was a time, in a galaxy far, far away, when presidents of the United States could make proclamations exhorting Americans to their religious duties without being accused of offenses against the “wall” that some think should separate faith and civic life.

Happy Thanksgiving! Remember God and thank Him!

How to Thank God as He Has Instructed – A Meditation on Thanksgiving Day

Your grace and mercy,
brought me through.
I’m living this moment,
Because of you.
I want to thank you,
And praise you too.
Your grace and mercy,
Brought me through!

On this feast of Thanksgiving (here in America) we do well to ponder how we ought to give thanks to God. Indeed, how can one adequately thank God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift? Is it really enough to simply kneel and say a prayer of thanks? Perhaps we should run to Church and light a candle, or visit some distant shrine. Maybe we should be doing the “Snoopy Dance” as we say over and over, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

But none of these acts of thanksgiving would prove adequate. God has been too good, has done too much, and is, after all, God.

Indeed, a great question went up in the Old Testament regarding this very problem of adequately thanking God. It occurs in Psalm 116, wherein the psalmist plaintively asks,

What return can I ever make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12)

To that point, the Jewish people had been accustomed to killing thousands of animals every day and burning them up in the Temple in order to give thanks and to atone for sin. But the blood of animals cannot atone for sin and neither can slaying even many thousands of them really give adequate thanks to God.

And thus the same psalm not only asks the question, but also provides the answer:

What return can I ever make to the Lord, for all the good he has done for me? The chalice of salvation I will take up, I will call on the name of the Lord! (Psalm 116:12-13)

And yet, in supplying this answer, the actual raising of the chalice of salvation could only be pointed to in the Old Testament; it could not actually be done. The lifting up of the chalice of salvation and the giving of adequate thanks could, and would, only be done by Jesus.

And this brings us to the first Thanksgiving meal. No, we are not in Plymouth Massachusetts in the 1620s. We are at the first, the true, the only Thanksgiving meal that can ever really render adequate thanks to the Father. That meal took place in the upper room, at the Last Supper that Jesus had with His disciples. We are told that He took the bread and, having given thanks, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body.” And likewise, after the meal, He took the chalice and gave thanks, and giving it to His disciples He said, “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the New and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” He added, “Do this in memory of me.”

Yes, this is the true and the first Thanksgiving meal. Jesus alone is able to fulfill Psalm 116; taking the cup, the chalice, He lifts it up and gives thanks to God adequately for all the good He has done. Jesus fulfills the Scripture and gives adequate thanks.

You and I can never give adequate thanks to the Father, but we do have a member of our family who is so able: He is our Brother and He is our Lord; He is Jesus Christ.

At Thanksgiving, how can you and I give adequate thanks to the Lord? The answer is not on some far-off, distant mountaintop; it is as near as our parish church. We give adequate thanks to the Father by joining our meager thanksgiving to the perfect thanksgiving of Jesus in every Mass. We, as members of His Body (and He is the Head of His Body the Church at every Mass), fulfill Psalm 116 when we, through Jesus our head, take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. Joining our meager thanks to that of Jesus, the Father is perfectly glorified and perfectly thanked. The Mass is the perfect thanksgiving; it was, is, and remains for us our perfect Thanksgiving meal and sacrifice.

Hidden Mass? It is interesting that in one of the Gospels chosen for the Mass on Thanksgiving, we have the gospel of the ten lepers. And you may have noticed (but perhaps not) that the whole gospel, which is about giving thanks, itself has the form of a Mass. For there are lepers who gather, just as we lepers gather at every Mass. And as they are gathered, Jesus is in their midst; Jesus is passing by. It is just as Jesus, acting through the person of the priest, walks the aisle of our church. And seeing Jesus, the lepers cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” just as we cry out in every Mass, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” And Jesus, turning, gives them a word, quoting from Leviticus 13:2 “Go show yourselves to the priests.” We, too, are given a word from the Lord at every Mass. Jesus’ homily to the lepers was a brief one, saying in effect, “Go do what this reading says.” And at the end of the day, that is a pretty good summary of what every sermon should be, as Jesus speaking through our clergy says to us, “Go do what this reading says.” One of the lepers, realizing he has been healed by this word, falls to his knees to give thanks. And so do we fall to our knees to give thanks in the great Eucharistic prayer. And the word “Eucharist” is from the Greek meaning “to give thanks.” Jesus then bids the man leave, saying that his faith and his act of thanksgiving have saved him. Thus we are instructed by the priest or deacon at the end of the Mass to go and announce salvation to the world.

Yes, this gospel about giving thanks is in the very form of the Mass. And it is no mistake, for the Mass is the perfect act of thanksgiving, wherein we are joined to Jesus in the one perfect act of praise and thanksgiving.

Just a brief thought on Thanksgiving day: how shall we adequately thank God for all the good He has done? You know the answer: go to Mass and join with Jesus in the only adequate way of really thanking the Father.

Here’s a nice old prayer. But the Mass is even better.

Thanksgiving 2017

Earlier today, Cardinal Wuerl joined with other faith leaders of the Washington area to share a thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. Read the message below or here.

 

Thanksgiving 2017

The American Holiday

Across our nation, people of every background and tradition celebrate Thanksgiving as a distinctly American holiday, rooted in gratitude. In the great diversity of faith traditions, we gather at table to give thanks for our many blessings. We pause to thank our Creator and, at the same time, celebrate our freedom. Thanksgiving is not only an historical celebration, but a present reality in which even the most recent arrival in our nation rejoices. Among the blessings Americans share is the gift of freedom. We celebrate its many expressions, including the freedom to practice one’s faith. Another is our freedom of speech and the liberty to express ourselves. We recognize, however, that freedom of expression carries the responsibility to do so with mutual respect and civility. As Americans, we are all free to speak what we believe to be the truth, but we are also challenged to do so in love, in the spirit of universal kinship recognizing the dignity of every person. For both the freedom and the challenge we give thanks. And we wish a peaceful, happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Solidarity Table

Imam Talib Shareef
Masjid Muhammad – The Nation’s Mosque

Bishop Mariann Budde
Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Rabbi Bruce Lustig
Washington Hebrew Congregation

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Archdiocese of Washington

True Thanksgiving Isn’t Just Something We Do; It’s Something That Happens to Us

thanksgiving-2016One of the dangers in presenting New Testament moral teaching is reducing the Gospel to a moralism, a rule to follow using the power of one’s own flesh. This is an incorrect notion because for a Christian, the moral life is not merely achieved; it is received. The moral life is not an imposition; it is a gift from God.

The Gospel chosen for Thanksgiving Day features the familiar story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus, but only one of whom returns to thank Him. The ingratitude of the other nine prompts an irritable response from Jesus, who more than suggests that they also should have returned to give thanks. Reading this Gospel on the surface, it is easy to conclude that it is a moralism about being thankful to God and others. Well, that’s all well and good, but simply reminding people of a rule of polite society isn’t really the Gospel.

True thankfulness is receiving from God a deeply grateful heart so that we do not merely say thank you in a perfunctory way, but are deeply moved with gratitude. We are not merely being polite or justly rendering a debt of obligation; we actually are grateful from the heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift from God, which proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. We do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. This is the Gospel. It is not a moralism, but a truth of a transformed heart.

An anointing that we should seek from God is the powerful transformation of our intellect and heart such that we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that is everything we have. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything—literally everything—is a gift from God.

Permit me a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening awareness of gratitude. Ultimately, gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of the intellectual basis for it can help to open us more fully to this gift.

  1. We are contingent beings who depend upon God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell, every part of every cell, every molecule, every part of every molecule, every atom, every part of every atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every movement of our body. God sustains every detail of the universe: the perfectly designed orbit of Earth so that we do not overheat or freeze, the magnetic shield around Earth protecting us from the harmful aspects of solar radiation, and every process (visible and hidden) of everything on our planet, in our solar system, and in our galaxy. All of this, and us, are contingent; we are sustained by God and provided for by Him. The magnitude of what God does is simply astonishing—and He does it all free of charge! Pondering such goodness and providence helps us to be more grateful.
  2. Every good thing we do is a gift from God. St. Paul said, What have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7) Elsewhere, he wrote, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God; they are His gift to us. On judgment day we cannot say to God, “Look what I’ve done; you owe me Heaven.” All we can say on that day is “Thank you!”
  3. Gifts sometimes come in strange packages. There are some gifts of God that do not seem like gifts at all. There are sudden losses, tragedies, natural disasters, and the like. In such moments we can feel forsaken by God; gratitude is the last thing on our mind. But Scripture bids us to look again: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good, something better. He is paving a path to glory—perhaps through the cross—but unto glory. We may have questions, but remember that Jesus said, But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines, and make a way out of no way.
  4. Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is gift. Even our failures are gifts, provided we are in Christ and learn humility from them. For what shall we give thanks? Everything! There is an old saying, “Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve.” Like you, I am asked many times a day, “How are you doing?” I’ve trained myself to respond, “More blessed than I deserve.”
  5. The word “thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. In Latin and the Romance languages, the words for thanks are more closely related to the concepts of grace and gift. In Latin, one says thank you by saying, “Gratias ago tibi,” or simply, “Gratias.” And although gratias is translated as “thanks,” it is really the same root word as that of “grace” and “gift,” which in Latin are rendered as “gratia.” Hence in saying this, one is exclaiming, “Grace!” or “Gifts!” It is the same in Spanish (Gracias) and Italian (Grazie). French has a slightly different approach: Merci comes from the Latin merces, which refers to something that has been paid for or given freely. So all of these languages recognize that the things for which we are grateful are really gifts. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connection. About the closest we get in English are the words “gratitude” and “grateful.” All of these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, gratitude) teach us that everything is gift!

Gratitude is a gift to be received from God and should be asked for humbly. One can dispose oneself to it by reflecting on some of the things described above, but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite, and transformed heart. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that springs from a heart moved, astonished, and deeply aware of the fact that all is gift.

On The Loss of The Thanksgiving Holiday…Is there anything we can do?

Many of us have rightly, lamented the steady erosion of the Thanksgiving holiday. Over the past decade or so that hideousness of people camped out, sometimes for days, in front of stores to take advantage of “Black Friday” sales grew more widespread. This next intensified to stores opening at midnight, then at 8 PM on Thanksgiving evening. And now many are just plain open all day on Thanksgiving.

Sad if you ask me, (and even if you don’t ask me) the loss of Thanksgiving is very sad. And those of us or left holding the candle, of the “old days,” ask somewhat mournfully, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” And the sober non-exaggerated answer is “No, very little, if anything, is sacred anymore.

Those of us who are a little older, remember when most Sundays were quiet days, most stores and businesses were closed, and only essential emergency personnel were expected to work. That went away in most places by the mid-70s. And Thanksgiving, Christmas Day were some of the last holdouts.

When I tell most younger people about the way Sundays used to be, many of them, even churchgoing Catholics, look somewhat puzzled even mystified: Why would things be closed? “I don’t know,” I answer, “But it was just that some of us thought some things were sacred, some days and times were just off limits for doing lesser things like buying and selling and other non-essential things.

Sundays and holidays were “set apart,” the true meaning of the word “sacred.” They were for family, for God, you just didn’t interfere with that.

Now, with the steady rise of secularism, the notion that anything is sacred, seems strange, antiquated, restrictive, even “hateful” since certain “religious” people are trying to “impose their values” on others. The libertarian leanings within me are sympathetic to those who raise concerns that laws could be passed forbidding businesses to open certain days etc.

But even if we could do that, (which we certainly can’t at this point), the concern that we might try to pass laws really misses the point. The point is, that we used to agree that certain days and times, certain things, were sacred and we carved out room, and gave reverence to them. Now we don’t.

Again to the question, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” The sad answer comes back, “No
Almost nothing.”

“Black Friday” By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA   Licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Black Friday” By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What then to do about the current state of affairs? Is there any way for us to reacquaint others with the sacred in an increasingly secular culture?

Something occurs in terms of a solution in what Jesus said to a young man from whom he cast out many demons. You are likely aware of the details of the story, but if you wish to review the whole store you can read it in Mark 5:1ff. The young man had many demons, “Legion,” for there were very many of them. Jesus drove them out, into a local herd of swine, some 2000 and number, which ran off the bluff and drowned in the lake.

What is odd, and also speaks also to the cultural conditions of our time, is that the townspeople are not grateful to Jesus. Rather they are fearful and averse to him, and ask him to leave their town immediately. Now just consider, a young man was so fiercely possessed, that even when his hands and feet were chained, he broke the chains could not be repressed in anyway. One would think that gratitude joy, and a desire for Jesus to stay would be the natural and normal response to this.

But having experienced significant financial loss, and possibly fearing that Jesus could control too much, the people are angry, and fearful, and insist that Jesus leave their town.

Now here is a paradigm for our modern culture. Increasingly, we are seeing more than a mere indifference to God or religion, but and outright aversion, even overt hostility toward faith and the teachings of Jesus. The faith established by Jesus Christ is increasingly seen as an obstacle, both to happiness and progress. Perhaps too, there is some fear that if Christianity were to be more widely embraced, many changes would be necessary; many sins would need to be faced, and repented of; and many virtues such as generosity to the poor would be more strictly required.

Now at some level, these assumptions are true. Christianity, fully embraced, with more than lip service, does lead to significant change in one’s life! But of course the mechanism of this change is not simply the dreadful, fearful following the rules, per se, but rather a transformative power wherein one sees sins put to death, and many virtues come alive.

Yet many, not appreciating this or understanding it, fear Christian influence which shines a light of truth of their sins and/or neglects.

And thus, many in our culture are insisting that Jesus and us leave town on the very next train. So, what happened at the lake side, in the land of the Gerasenes, is very much alive in our time as well.

Given the similarities, what did Jesus advise then, and what does it mean now? The young man, having been healed, begs to follow Jesus, Jesus says “No” and advises the following, which the man does:

Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.(Mark 5:19-20)

So, the solution for the hostility in this land of the Gerasenes, is to leave behind a witness to the goodness and mercy of God, who by his witness and testimony, will help bring people to their senses.

The Man becomes quite a witness, it would seem, for he went through the cities of the Decapolis, (which means the region of the ten cities), and thus he covers a good bit of territory.

And the text states the results that all who heard him were amazed. Actually, the Greek verb is a little more specific than that. ἐθαύμαζον (ethaumazon) is an imperfect, indicative, active verb.

That a verb is in the “imperfect” tense implies that it is not yet fully completed at the time it is reported to us. Thus perhaps a better translation of this verb would say that those who heard him were “becoming amazed.” In other words, witness, and evangelization, is generally not a “one and you’re done,” scenario. More is needed than one barn-burner sermon where everyone gets converted instantly. But rather, it involves staying in a conversation with people over some period of time and leading them back.

And this then is our lot, and also our solution in a culture that has lost almost any sense of the sacred, and is becoming increasingly irreligious and even hostile to the faith.

So, what are we to do? The Lord’s advice seems clear enough: Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you. In other words, tell them how he healed you; tell them what he’s done for you; show them how you have been healed; and manifest a joy to them. And while this may take time, many will begin to be amazed.

It seems clear today, we cannot simply reduce evangelization to an intellectual appeal. Doctrines and dogmas are ultimately very essential, lest we go off and invent our own new religion, a very bad and idolatrous thing to do!

But it would seem, that our first appeal is to be living witness of the transformative power of Jesus Christ in our lives. We need to be able to tell others, to manifest to them the power and the glorious majesty of Jesus Christ and the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring joy and many graces alive.

Of course, this will take time, and we will take back territory from the devil one soul at a time. But at a certain point things reach critical mass, and faith goes from small little communities to a more cultural influence. It may take a long time, and that is not without his frustrations. At times, it seems that it takes centuries to build something up, and only twenty minutes to tear it down.

But all we can do is rebuild. One day, we may rediscover the sacred, Sundays and holy days may return his days of special observance. For now, all we can do is get to work it is the Lord will bring the harvest.

This song’s text is “Gratias Agimus Tibi” (We give you thanks) from the Bach B Minor Mass.

Some thoughts to help deepen our gratitude.

112713True gratitude is a grace, or gift from God which proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. In such a case we do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, or because God commands it, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. The “command” of Scripture to give thanks is not a moralism, but a truth and description of a transformed heart.

Thus, an anointing to seek from God is a powerful transformation of our intellect and heart wherein we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that everything we have really is. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything, literally everything, is a gift from God.

Permit a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening awareness of gratitude. Ultimately gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of the intellectual basis for it can help to open us more fully to this gift.

1. We are contingent beings who depend on God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell, every part of a cell, every molecule, every part of a molecule, every atom, every part of an atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every organ and movement of our body. God sustains every intricate detail of this world in which we live: the perfectly designed orbit of this planet so that we do not cook or freeze, the magnetic shield around the planet that protects us from harmful aspects of solar radiation, every intricate visible and hidden process of this earth, solar system, galaxy and universe. All of this, and us, are contingent and thus sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length and width of what God does is simply astonishing. And he does it all free of charge. As we ponder such goodness and providence we are helped to be more grateful. All is gift.

2. Every good thing you or I do is a gift from God. St. Paul says, What have you that you have not received. And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7). Elsewhere he writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us. And on judgment day we cannot say to God, Look what I have done, you owe me heaven; All we can say on that day is Thank You! All is gift!

3. Gifts in strange packages – There are some gifts of God that do not seem like gifts. There are sudden losses, tragedies, natural disasters and the like. In such moments we can feel forsaken by God, and gratitude is the last thing on our mind. But here too, Scripture bids us to look again: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good, something better. He is paving a path to glory, perhaps through the cross, but unto glory. For now we may have questions but Jesus has said to us: But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me. (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines, and make a way out of no way. All is gift!

4. Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is gift. Even our failures, if we are in Christ and learn from them and they teach us humility. For what shall we give thanks? Everything! All is gift!

5. There is an old saying: Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. I like you get asked a dozen times a day, “How are you doing?” I have trained myself to often answer, “More blessed than I deserve.” Yes, All is gift.

6. Finally, the work “Thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. But in the Latin and the Romance Languages, the word for “thanks” is far more tied to the fact of grace and gift. In Latin one says thank you as gratias ago tibi, or simply, gratias. Now gratias is translated as “thanks” But it is really the same word as “grace” and “gift” which in Latin is rendered gratia. Hence when one receives a gift they thus exclaim: “Grace!” or “Gifts!” It is the same with Spanish: Gracias and Italian: ‘Grazie. French has a slightly different approach but also less abstract than English, when it says Thank you as Merci which is rooted in the Latin merces, meaning something that has been paid for or given freely. So all these languages vividly record the giftedness that underlies everything for which we are grateful. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connections. About the closest we get are the words, gratitude and grateful. And again all these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, gratitude) teach us that all is gift!

To be grateful is ultimately a gift to be be received from God. We ought to humbly ask for it. We can dispose our self to it by reflecting on things like that above but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite and transformed heart. Saying thank you is not a moralism. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished and aware of the fact that all is gift.

A Lament On the Disappearing of Thanksgiving

My Father used to love Thanksgiving. It was for him the one one holiday that was not corrupted by silly sales, and endless machinations of marketers. It was just a time when family gathered, stores were closed and there wasn’t much the marketers could do to mess with our minds.

But as you know, the “sanctuary” of Thanksgiving, has been steadily eroded in the past ten years with the depressing and even tragic spectacle of “Black Friday.” What an awful thing it has become in recent years to see people lining up through the middle of the night to stampede into stores. Not only are there terse interactions, but also physical altercations, even a few deaths a couple years back as a stampede occurred (as I recall for some stupid doll that was the rage that year).

This year the erosion of Thanksgiving took a major chunk of territory as many stores announced that they would open on the evening of Thanksgiving. A sadly, for many shoppers who seem to suffer from some definite signs of addiction, this means Thanksgiving is all but gone since they feel compelled to stand in line for hours to be among the first to make the hideous rush into the store for some miserable gadget. It is a sad spectacle, so very sad.

I expect someone to write in her defending the practice and announcing that some very good deals are to be had. But honestly, is it worth it to see a decent holiday eroded by this? And I wonder too how standing in line for six hours to save a few bucks is really saving anything at all. For me, time is very valuable, time with family is valuable, yes time is precious. I dunno, called unsold on the “deals” that are available.

Black Friday got its name because this was the weekend when many retailers finally saw the ink on their ledgers go from red (deficit) to black (profit). But Black Friday is now earning a new reputation as it manifests the darker side our our nature.

Mind you, I am not calling for some new “law” and for government to “do something.” Marketers are free to open their establishments and people are free to shop as they please.

But I share a memory in  my Father’s honor (may he rest in peace), that, once upon a time there was a holiday in America that was uncommercialized, a holiday that was just about family, and gratitude, just about simple togetherness. Yes, once upon a time, in an America increasingly far, far away.