Bishop’s Reflection: Thankfulness: A Joyful Awareness of God’s Love

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Every first of November my thoughts go to Thanksgiving Day. I think this holiday comes to mind because I have been blessed with a lifetime of happy memories around this epic family meal. I also think of this holiday because the spiritual attitude of a thankful heart is a needed remedy to some of the wounds in our world today.  If given a chance, I think I would make Thanksgiving Day a holy day of obligation.

I grew up in a family where we were taught to say, “Thank you.”  It was so ingrained in me that in particular moments when my mom would put the question to me, “WHAT DO YOU SAY?” I knew that one of the answers to that question was “Thank You.” (The other possible answers were “I’m sorry,” or “Excuse me”). But this lesson was about manners and politeness.  There is a deeper and more profound importance to being thankful which is a needed lesson in today’s world.

Thankfulness means acknowledging that we have received a gift and an undeserved blessing. Being thankful is the fruit of our faith in God. Thankfulness assumes a loving God who provides and blesses us with the good things of our lives. When we live with a foundational attitude of thankfulness, life is not about our things, our accomplishments, what we deserve or are due, but rather about the blessings of God and being stewards of the gifts we have received.

If you listen you will hear a different language being spoken today.  In response to some good thing people will say, “I deserved this,” “I am finally getting what is owed me,” “This is mine… I earned it.”  In today’s world, as more and more people push God out of their lives, nothing is seen as a blessing. Instead a successful life can only be judged by how much stuff we have, by how much money and influence we have and, in spite of our age, how young and relevant we are. Of course the wise person knows that there is no end to this frantic merry-go-round quest because there is always someone with more power and influence, with more money, and we are destined to get old. The person who always wants more will never find peace because they will never be able to answer the question, “How much is enough?” They will never be able to see the blessings they already have because they always need more.

A thankful heart, in the deepest spiritual sense, is found only when we humble ourselves before God and admit that all things come from God as a blessing, especially our very lives. The truth that brings a man or woman of faith joy and peace are not the accomplishments or the amount of things they own, but their love of God, His faithful care and the knowledge of an even better life to come. All other blessings seen in this light are blessings to be enjoyed, but also shared as God has shared them with us. When I become aware of the blessings of my life as gifts from God, then I am more willing to likewise share these gifts with others. Generosity is not based on how much we have to give away, but rather on the awareness of how much we have received from God.

This frantic searching for happiness is unsuccessful because God is not part of the equation. This is why thankfulness is a balm, a cure for a modern world that continues to seek worldly recognition. Thankfulness, beyond simple politeness, is a freeing and joyful awareness of how much God has blessed us.  With this new way of viewing the world, we can see the blessings right in front of us: our homes, family and friends, our very lives, and, most importantly, a loving God who forgives and redeems us.

This is a truth at the center of our faith. We call Mass the “Eucharist,” which is the Greek word for Thanksgiving.  Our central prayer in the Church is first and foremost a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to the love God shares with us and the priceless gift of His own body and blood. Now that I write this, I realize we do not need to have a Holy Day of Obligation for Thanksgiving, because every day is a Eucharist, a thanksgiving to God.  And the more we understand this, the more our hearts are thankful, the more we will feel satisfied and peaceful and the more generous we will be to those in need.  •

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