Scripture Readings: Sirach 50:22–24; Mark 5:18–20
Our readings begin with the invitation, “And now bless God who has done wondrous things on earth,” and end with the man proclaiming everywhere all that Jesus had done for him. God’s greatness and goodness always go beyond the universal and general to reach the individual and particular Then the journey is reversed when the act of blessing, of praise, and of thanksgiving, starts from the blessed individual, goes out through the community and creation, to return again to the Giver, the God of all.
Our readings, short as they are, define a journey: From the God of all, to earth, to our mother’s womb, and finally to our heart— from immeasurable infinity to the most secret personal intimacy; and then from there, expanding again, first to peace among us, and then to the whole nation, in our days, till we return from where we began, “And now, bless the God of all.” Similarly in the Gospel, the man now healed in his deepest personal intimacy who had been possessed by a demon, who lived apart, as one alone among the dead, among the tombs, now is told to go to his own home, to his friends, and instead goes the whole region of the Ten Towns, proclaiming how much Jesus had done for him.
Such is the heart of thanksgiving, focused on the Giver and not of the gift. Something you can be sure of, you cannot be sad and thankful at the same time. Try it. Thanksgiving drives out sadness. Sadness is the pits. A sad Christian is an abomination. Sadness is caused when we don’t get our way, when our expectations are not answered, and our expectations are such that even when they are fulfilled, there will always be something missing, and we fill in the space with complaining and sadness. Thankfulness is recognizing the Gift of what we did not expect, and certainly did not deserve. Thanksgiving is the correlative of grace, of gift, for who is thankful for what he thinks is owed him? It makes me sad to see sad monks. Sad monks are an abomination. Why are they sad? Their expectations are disappointed? But what can a monk expect, seriously? If he has clothes, bed, bread, brothers and a Psalter, and energy to work and pray, or just only pray, then he is surfeited. If he lacks energy, someone else will make it up, that’s the blessing of a brotherhood. Mainly, a monk knows that Love loves him, Love draws and calls him, Love reaches out to his reaching out to Love, motive in a monk’s life more than enough for Thanksgiving.
The man in today’s Gospel had reason to be sad. Jesus did not let him get in the Boat and be with him: He begged that he might be with him but Jesus refused. Imagine. Not to be with Jesus is reason for sadness. Later in the same Gospel of Mark, in fact, a man will go away sad, not because Jesus refused him, though, but because he refused Jesus. Profound regret over a poor choice. How much more, you’d think, the sadness of being refused by Jesus, of the Love you reach out to withdrawing his hand empty back into the Boat without you. But Jesus didn’t stop at not letting him be with him. He entrusted him with a mission: “Go home to your friends and announce to them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So here are two things, two vocations, maybe, being with Jesus because of what he did for you, and going away from Jesus, to proclaim to others what he did for you. The first is resting in the Gift but risking attachment to the little Boat, while the second is celebrating the Giver, enabling the expansive return of Love and Grace to its source: the God of all who has done wondrous things on earth: growth in the womb, joy in the heart, peace and goodness to all in our days. He went away, but did not go away sad. His thanksgiving saw to that. “Go,” we are told at the end of our Eucharist, of our Thanksgiving, “and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.”
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Lk 17:11-19 ]
The question: “Ten were cleansed; where are the other nine?” The answer: Ten were cleansed; one was converted. His conversion distinguished him from the others. And it was for his conversion that he “returned glorifying God and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.”
Conversion is a change of heart and a change of heart is a change in what affects us. It is a “turning.” That means something affected us before, and now something new affects us … affects us very deeply and pervasively. As we talked about in Sunday Chapter, our whole way of valuing, of determining what matters most, is changed. Instead of a life centered on the merely satisfying, we find ourselves attracted to the intrinsically good. We witness such things as an act of forgiveness, a warm and kind person, or a reverent liturgy and it touches us. Such things actually become important to us; most important.
And along with that we find a change in what repels us. Sins that used to delight us or at least never arouse guilt now become repulsive. It is not a matter of adherence to doctrine; it is personal experience of the cost of sin to ones spirit.
And perhaps the most stunning part of this is the certainty that it has all been given to us. Conversion is a Spirit-given re-alignment of our desire that converts our preferences. What makes this stunning is that it got around our pride. The important difference between the old self and the new was that we accepted what he knew we did not deserve; we agreed to receive what it was impossible to pay for. We're no longer attracted to, as one saint put it, “Having a great name on earth.” For conversion to endure we had to have humility.
And it is in gratitude for our conversion that we gather on this Thanksgiving Day. I came to New Melleray specifically to give the rest of my life in gratitude for a conversion and the new identity that comes with it. This gratitude brings one through the spiritual trials of one's vocation because, having been favored, one can confidently hope that favor will be shown again.
All of this happens in the context of a growing intimacy with Christ. What else could any of us be more grateful for? Everything else that we have gets its true importance from the One Thing: the Spirit-given preference for Jesus Christ.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19]
Compared to other parables and stories that Jesus tells which leave us unsure of their message, such as the last line from last Friday's Gospel, “where the body is there also the vultures will gather”, today's Gospel story is straight forward and simple to understand and yet we are left with a question to be answered, Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17:23).
The simple message here is that we should be more thankful to God for what we have. So the Gospel fits perfectly for Thanksgiving Day. If we take the Gospel seriously we make a resolution to make gratitude more evident in our life. This might last a few weeks but inevitably we fall back into taking things for granted and go the way of the nine who were healed but ran off without saying thank you.
To offset this tendency let us try to get into the head of the one who returned thanks to Jesus. If he could reach over the centuries and talk to us what would he say? He might say, “Listen, I was on two counts an outsider. I was a Samaritan living among Jews who despised me and I was a leper who had to live outside the camp. I was despised and rejected by my own people; people shielded their eyes when they saw me; they spit at me. Years later when I saw what happened to Jesus I saw my life in a different way, I realized it was a great grace to be so identified with the one who healed me and that my suffering was united with his. But that is jumping ahead. On the day Jesus passed by a group of us we shouted out for relief. He told us to go and show ourselves to the priest and as I was running with the others I realized my skin was healed but there was something more, I felt there was an inner healing. I realized my whole unhappy life was changed; it was almost like being raised from the dead. All the abuse was gone, all the rejection and isolation, it all disappeared and where there was hate I now experienced love so deep that I could not help but return and thank Jesus. I fell prostrate at his feet and thanked and adored him. As I lay there he reached down and told me to stand up. I was a new man and became his disciple for the rest of my life.”
In this story is our story. In fact St. Bernard teaches that when we experience how much we have been cleansed from our sins we should prostrate and kiss the feet of Jesus, this is the first movement of our journey home. The second is when we kiss Jesus' hand as he raises us up and with his right hand supports us the rest of our life; finally at the moment of our death when Jesus who has been preparing a place for us comes to bring us to himself, the sting of death becomes the kiss of everlasting peace. So every day is a day to thank God for healing us, supporting us and finally embracing us as we enter eternity. Let us give thanks to the Lord!
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19]
A few weeks ago I was reading an article in a diocesan newspaper about a soccer game between Kenrick Catholic seminary in St. Louis and Concordia Lutheran seminary. I skimmed the article looking for the score sort of half heartedly interested to see if the Catholics won—soccer after all is a Catholic sport, isn’t it? I skimmed it a few times but could not find the score so I read it more carefully but no score was reported. I then realized how narrow my view was. A lot of good things happened on the field besides winning and loosing. There are a whole host of values besides winners and losers but every story we hear has winners and losers.
Take that idealized painting of the Pilgrims sitting down with the Indians for a turkey dinner. Everything is bliss, a wonderful meeting of two cultures until you think about what happened to the American Indians. They were soon forced not only to leave the table but to leave their land and move west.
If you add a few verses to our first reading today you come up with a similar picture. The verses we heard are a beautiful blessing prayer, but it applies only to Israel. Israel is the chosen race, if not the dominate culture at least the privileged one. How Sirach feels about other cultures is revealed in the next sentence following what we heard: “My whole being loathes two nations—the third is not even a people; the degenerate folk who dwell in Shechem” (Sir 50:25-26). The Samaritans lived in Shechem. There always seems to be a dark side to life—winners and losers. We can be very kind and generous to our own and downright cruel and mean to strangers and foreigners.
One of ideals of the American experiment was to do away with a privileged class. Benjamin Franklin explains this in an amusing letter to his daughter written in 1784. He begins by lamenting the choice of the Eagle as the national bird. A regal looking bird but a bird with a bad moral character—it steals food from other birds. He tells his daughter the turkey would be a much better choice. Turkeys are sort of folksy and they share their food with other birds in the yard. He then goes on to explain that in the New World there should be no hereditary degrees, no royalty where wealth and title are handed down from above to below for generations. Ours was to be a movement from below upwards where ordinary folk climb the social ladder by the dent of hard work and thrift. No privileged class. Once again this sounds good but the reality proved false. There was a privileged class, there were winners and losers. The white male voted, women and slaves did not.
In so many of his stories Jesus shows that it is the loser, the outcast the degenerate Samaritans of the world that do the right thing while the privileged ones look on clueless. Today’s Gospel is a good example. No one at that time was lower than a leper except a Samaritan leper, yet he did the right thing. Even though his situation was miserable his heart was in the right place. He did not lose his true identity because of external circumstances.
It is easy to see why this Gospel was chosen for Thanksgiving Day—one returned to thank Jesus for his cure. But, this parable is not just about a physical healing it is about something much deeper, it is about our need for a spiritual healing. Sin is a type of blindness that leads us to believe we are something we really are not. It is a loss of identity. We may believe we are not a privileged class when we really are or that we treat everyone equally when we really don’t or that we do not categorize into winners or losers when we do. Grace leads us to embrace our whole selves, our good side and bad side our light side and our dark side our woundedness. We can hide from ourselves, but not from God. When we stand before the Lord on that last day and he shows us his wounds he may ask us, “where are your wounds”?
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19]
There are three very important things that everyone should know about themselves: where they are, where they came from, and where they are going: their past, their present, and their future. With this in mind, let us look at the gospel story of the ten lepers. Where did they come from? We know one came from Samaria. This is very important to the story but not critical. The ten lepers really came from a state or type of life that was pure misery. They were ostracized and rejected by society. They were really in bondage, slaves to an incurable illness. In this sense the ten lepers represent the human race before salvation, the human race in bondage to sin.
The ten lepers meet Jesus and he sends them into the future, “Go show yourself to the priests,” he says. One gets the sense they were running to the priests hopeful for their future. While they are running they are healed. What happens to nine of the lepers is not clear. I believe they skipped going to the priest and just kept on going into a blissful future free of leprosy. Their future, in a certain way their liberation, becomes their present tense.
Only one comes back to thank Jesus. Kneeling before Jesus, thanking him, is his present tense. The gospel uses the word realize to describe his state of mind. He realized he was cured by Jesus and came back to thank him. The others, of course, realized they were cured too, but in the joy of the moment forget God who healed them. They were cured only physically; spiritually they lived in the land of forgetfulness.
The moral of the story is that we should be like the Samaritan leper who returned to thank God. He is a model for how we should be in life and how we should sort of baptize this Thanksgiving Day. It should be a day of realization of where we have come from and a day of return. A day to especially shun forgetfulness about our future.
There are multiple layers of meaning in today’s feast. It is a civil holiday like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Columbus Day—all concerned about where we as Americans have come from, and what that means for our present time and our future. We should never forget what past generations have done for us and realize we have to make sure we do our part to preserve the gift and do our part to pass it on to future generations.
On another level we bring the mystery of Christ into the heart of our civil holidays. The Greek word for Thanksgiving is Eucharistia. The Eucharist brings together, or better realizes—makes real—the past, the present, and the future, not only of each of us but of all history. If each day, as I rise from sleep, I repeat Paul’s words, “Whatever I do this day in word or deed I will do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him,” my whole day will be Eucharistic. The Eucharist is the life of the Blessed Trinity present to us in sacramental form. Each day let us return to it as we move into the future with greater awareness of our past state of healing.
[Scripture Readings: Sir. 50: 22-24; Col. 3: 12-17; Lk. 17: 11-19]
When some event or occasion comes around on a regular basis I find it easy to take it in stride and not give a whole lot of attention to why it is there. Thanksgiving is one example. Most of us probably know that Thanksgiving originated with the pilgrims and the Indians in New England, and we may know that Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday. In the background there is still the question, why a special day of thanksgiving? After all, shouldn’t we always be thankful to God for what he has done for us?
Yes, we should, and most of us do stop and thank God; especially when we have had exceptionally good fortune, or been spared from some misfortune. But it is easy to take God’s more familiar blessings for granted. Unfortunately, it is too easy to take God for granted. Further, the advance of secularism in our society pushes God out of our awareness and into the background. For some people God is simply ignored. Their attitude seems to be that even if God exists, his existence is irrelevant to the important concerns of life. They may take the attitude: Whatever I have, I earned; or I am entitled to it even if I haven’t earned it.
We also need to look beyond individualism. God has not only blessed us as individuals, he has blessed us as a nation. We need a communal day of thanksgiving to acknowledge this. We may have our disagreements with some aspects of the direction our society is taking and in many ways the current political rhetoric encourages dissatisfaction and a critical attitude. Nevertheless, we have been blessed as a nation. We enjoy liberties and a degree of prosperity that many people, probably most people, do not enjoy. This is a cause for gratitude. It is also a challenge to ask ourselves what we have done with God’s blessings, individually and as a nation.
This morning’s gospel makes it clear that God expects us to express our gratitude for his blessings, and St. Paul shows us a number of ways to do this. We are to give God thanksgiving and praise directly with hymns and songs and prayers that express our gratitude. A not untypical response here is that God doesn’t need our praise. True. Nevertheless, he asks for it. It is also a concrete way in which we acknowledge the fundamental truth of our existence: that God is God and we are his creation. It is right and proper that we give God thanksgiving and praise. A fundamental and prevalent teaching of the New Testament is that we express our gratitude to God for what he has done for us by imitating him and showing favor to others. As he is kind, forgiving and patient toward us, he asks us to be kind, forgiving and patient toward one another. Above all we are to share God’s love for us with those we meet in life. Christ loved us so much that he emptied himself and accepted death for our sake. Is it asking too much that we share the blessings God has given to us with those who have less? No, it is not. Let us then imitate God’s generosity so that we may truly rejoice in thanksgiving before God.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19 ]
The story is told that in Northern India, not far from Nepal, about the year 600 B.C. a young man named Siddhartha left his comfortable life and set out on a journey to find the meaning of life. He was especially concerned about suffering. He was perplexed by the impermanence of everything. He said, “There is not any means by which those that have been born can avoid dying; after reaching old age there is death, of such nature are living things”
Every thinking person has to come up with an answer to suffering, to the impermanence of living things. Our Christian answer is that the root of all suffering is original sin. The antidote to sin is not something we can achieve through our own effort. It is faith in Jesus.
The miracle stories in the New Testament are all about the journey out of misery into happiness. In each of the stories there is a before and after. Before is a sorry state of affairs. The lame, the blind, lepers, violent storms, demonic possessions. Out of this misery there is the cry for help. In one story a father begs Jesus to help his son who under some evil impulse throws himself into the fire or into the water. What parent with a self destructive child has not echoed the prayer of this father, “Lord have pity on us and help us. I have faith, help my lack of faith”
The Fathers of the Church like to point out that all these stories are describing our life on earth before redemption. We are all subjected to diseases, natural disasters and evil inclinations, in other words to suffering, pain and misery.
Faith is the path from before to after – from misery to bliss. Each miracle story anticipates the Messianic era when the ravages of sin are obliterated. We who are baptized have begun the journey of transformation. We are in between before and after. We know the meaning of life, the answer to suffering, and the antidote to impermanence. All we have to do is live out our faith as life brings on its challenges.
There is an interesting follow-up to today’s first reading that we can hold up like a mirror to show us where we stand on our journey. The reading from Sirach was chosen for its relevance for Thanksgiving Day. It is a beautiful blessing, “May God grant you cheerful hearts and bring peace in our time”Thanksgiving Day is an idyllic American feast with images of the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down to a shared meal. There is, as there is with all idealized pictures, a darker side. This is reflected in a verse in Sirach that follows “peace in our times.” It goes, “There are two nations I detest…the Philistines and the stupid people who live in Shechem” . Isn’t this so typical of us, blessing with one breath and cursing with another? We can be sitting down for our Thanksgiving dinner and make a crack about those stupid people who live across the street! The stupid people of Schechem by the way are the Samaritans. The only leper who returned to thank Jesus for his healing in today’s Gospel was a Samaritan The nine who ran off were not really healed. Their skin might be healed but they would live only to be felled by another disease. The Samaritan found the meaning of life that could never be taken from him. How did he express this? Luke tells us he prostrated at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. To prostrate oneself is to lay down your life before another in worship. We cannot do this to another human being, only to God. Luke is telling us this Samaritan, this foreigner, experienced the divinity of Jesus. His action is an anticipation of the worship of heaven.
In this Eucharist we anticipate the worship of heaven also. It is the Glorified Jesus who offers his life to the Father. We, who need healing so desperately, are invited into this offering and given the very bread of life.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19]
Today’s celebration is an example of a practice the Church has used from earliest times, incorporating a civil or pagan festival into the liturgical calendar. Some scholars think Dec. 25th was chosen as the date of Christ’s birth to offset a pagan festival of the sun in Rome. Harvest festivals go back to the dawn of history. In the United States our Thanksgiving Day has its roots in the harvest but really it has been detached from this event from the time of Abraham Lincoln. He was the one who set the date as the last Thursday in November. Lincoln has been described as a deist so any expression of religion is very general with wide applications. His proclamation of Thanksgiving Day as a day to return thanks to a bountiful creator is very mild, acceptable to almost anyone.
I think our Thanksgiving days are a bit of an abstraction. To be meaningful our thanksgiving has to be attached to real human situation. People who have come close to death or survived cancer are ever grateful. Life takes on new meaning. They know how tenuous it is and hold it dear. For most of us we celebrate thanksgiving whether we have anything specific to be thankful for or not. The challenge, it seems to me, is to make gratitude personal and intimate, a real part of our daily life.We have to face the fact that many of us, most of us, are like the lepers in today’s Gospel running through life forgetful of their true situation. Nine out of the ten lepers cared about one thing: being cured, changing their terrible life situation. Once that happened they went their merry way. They had to go to the priest, as Jesus told them, to be examined and declared clean before they could be admitted back into society. But after that happened they forgot about Jesus. He was just a step on the way. They were outsiders who were once again insiders. They forgot what it was like. Were they really healed? Did anything change inside their minds? Was the healing only skin deep? They experienced the awfulness of being ostracized, excommunicated and then the wonderful reversal of being reinstated, accepted back into the community. But nothing really changed in their attitude or self understanding.
Our situation is not much different. We were outsiders because of sin, far away from our homeland with no resources of our own to return. We too have been reconciled, brought close by the mercy of God shown to us in Christ Jesus. Our second reading began with the words, “God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people,”
We have two roads stretching out before us. One is the road of forgetfulness, the other the road of remembrance. To remember is to be grateful. It is to be in touch with who we are and who God is. It is to be aware that God loves us and has chosen us as a special people. The Samaritan chose the way of remembrance and returned to give thanks. How can we imitate this good man and make his attitude of gratitude a way of life rather than a passing thought? Strange to say it is by remembering the darkness that we appreciate the light. The desert fathers teach us to hold our sins out in front of our eyes, not stuffed in the sack of oblivion and slung over our shoulder out of sight. When we know where we have come from and how we have been reconciled to God, how we have been reinstated to the community we are eternally grateful. The depth of our gratitude depends on the depth of our awareness of our condition before being forgiven. Jesus says of the women in the Gospel, “She has loved much because she has been forgiven much“.
The gospel story we have just heard is a parable of sin and forgiveness. Only one of the ten lepers became aware, moved into a new relationship with God and with himself. He did not return and grovel before Jesus. The climax of the story shows a man overwhelmed with gratitude and at the same time overwhelmed with humility. He “…praised God in a loud voice and threw himself at Jesus feet,”
Each day at the Eucharist we receive forgiveness, we receive the gift of reconciliation with God. We enjoy the undeserved status of God’s own special people. Jesus tells us to celebrate the Eucharist in remembrance of Him. This remembrance brings gratitude into our hearts.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19]
Last Tuesday we had several meetings about the renovation of our infirmary. Discussions about the lay out of rooms, types of fixtures, colors etc. This all brought back to my mind the two years from 1974 to 1976 when we renovated this church. All the decisions we had to make (and when you are talking construction the decisions are final — they are etched in stone)! One decision we faced with the church had to do with its walls. As you can see the stones were never meant to be exposed. From 1871 to 1974 the stones in these walls were hidden behind thick plaster. So when we took the plaster off we had to clean and tuck point the stone. Frank Kacmarcik, our design consultant, told us to treat the walls as you would an old barn, i.e. smear the plaster on, don’t make each joint distinct. This will pull the wall together visually. This scared us because there was no going back once the decision was made. But Frank proved right, the huge stone walls of this church pull together in a unity. When I am distracted in choir sometimes I look at the stones in the wall. There is a pleasing regular irregularity about them. They are not uniform in shape—very different in fact—and yet there is a unity there. The analogy, of course, is with our community or anyone’s family—so different yet one community, one family. Togetherness does not come easily for Americans. We prize the rugged individual, the autonomous self.
Abraham Lincoln was the president who called for the first national celebration of a Day of Thanksgiving. It was an attempt to pull together a nation torn apart by war. I suppose we could make out a case where this attempt has failed but on the whole I think our nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day with due reverence. Even in the monastery it makes us stop and reflect on the role gratitude plays in our life. The Gospel today reminds us how rare gratitude is. “…it seems,” Jesus says, “no one has come back to thank God but this foreigner“.
Ten lepers were healed, only one came back to thank the Lord. The other nine were probably so busy enjoying their new life they didn’t have time to return thanks. The story is meant to make us ask, “Who are we like?” Are we like the nine or the one? Are we the nine as a nation, as a community, as individuals? Enjoying the bounty, the harvest of life so much that we forget where it comes from. Or are we like the one who returns to the source of the good?
Jesus stands in this story as God stands in our life. Jesus is central to the story, he is the source of the gift of healing but he is easily forgotten. He does not force himself into the lives of the ten lepers. The connection between their good fortune and his presence is only made by one of them, and he is the one you would least expect to make it. The story is scary. It teaches us that not only do most people forget who they are, but the one who does is a foreigner, a nobody, someone who we think can teach us nothing. And yet he is the only one who shines. He is the only one with real insight into life.
God is central to our story, but he is easily forgotten. God will not usually overwhelm us. Jesus portrays God as knocking at the door of our life waiting to enter. He will not come uninvited. The connection between the life we enjoy and God is easily forgotten. Actually the connection we have with our nation, our community, our families is easily forgotten. We can be individual, discreet stones in a very boring wall, or bonded together by love into something beautiful.
St. Paul gives us a design to pull us together when he says in today’s second reading, “….you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another, forgive each other…. Over all these clothes put on love—the perfect bond. Always be thankful,”
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Lk 17:11-19]
What is the most important day in your life? For me, I would have to say it
was the day in 8th grade when I met Stan Musial! No, just kidding! But I once
made a retreat and was given the exercise of going over my life and writing
down the nine or ten most important events. It is a good exercise. It makes
you think and it makes you grateful. It would be a good exercise to do today.
Each of us has key events in our life. Sometimes we even have photos of
them-“the day I entered the monastery” or wedding day pictures are always a
It is remarkable how pictures stay in our minds. Whenever I think of
Thanksgiving Day there immediately comes to mind that picture you so often
see on greeting cards. Pilgrims sitting down with Indians and a pilgrim wife
carrying a big turkey to the table. Never mind that the table is sitting on
grass. The picture conveys harmony and peace, friendship, fellowship, working
together to make a better America! No matter how fictitious this picture is,
we carry it deep in our psyche. It is like the famous picture of Washington
crossing the Delaware. We want these myths to be true. Our country is founded
on heroes and gentle pilgrims who appreciated and shared with the Indians. We
know it is not true, but we want it to be. We still see America as the
strongest and most generous nation in the world, helping all other countries
develop. Facts cannot change the myth. Myths touch something deep within us.
They touch our archetypes, those forces and desires that are hard to put into
words. The trouble with myths is that they are a mixture of truth and
fiction. We can build our lives on them, but eventually they crumble in the
face of reality.
Scripture is a much better foundation. It is made up of revealing
words-Revelation-how things truly are. If we look at Thanksgiving through the
eyes of Scripture, what does it reveal? What do the readings we just heard
say about Thanksgiving. Let’s just look at one word from the 2nd reading in
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The word in the original is koinonia; it
means community, fellowship and partnership. It is what the picture on so
many Thanksgiving Day cards conveys, a community, and a fellowship between
different people. It is what makes people travel great distances to be home
for Thanksgiving. Community and partnership are deep desires in our heart.
Everyone wants some sort of community, some form of being with, some form of
partnership. It is what drives people to get married, to join religious
communities, even paradoxically to become hermits.
Hermits and, I like to believe Contemplative communities can speak eloquently
about koinonia because they point to the source of this archetypal need in
the human heart for togetherness. It is a profound need, a profound desire in
our heart because it comes from God. God is the source of our hearts desire
for union. Union, community, partnership breaks down the barrier that
separates the border between people.
In the Gospel stories Jesus is constantly cutting through these borders that
keep us from finding our true heart’s desire. In today’s Gospel, he is
walking on the border between Samaria and Galilee. This border is symbolic
and unfortunately still real. A border that separates and divides.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus holds up someone who crosses many borders-an
outcast-he is a Samaritan-he is unclean-he is sick-yet in the course of the
story, he finds his heart’s desire-his true being-the all-important other in
his life. He speaks out of that find. In fact, Luke says he shouts at the top
of his voice praise and thanks to God. This nobody has crossed life’s most
difficult borders from disbelief to belief. A border we all struggle with,
can we not see ourselves in this Gospel? Let us be at least today, the one
who returns and gives thanks to God.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; Col 3: 12-17; Lk 19:11-19]
Today we are carrying on a tradition that goes back at least to the time of Abraham Lincoln, setting aside a Thursday late in November as a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. The prayers we use at Mass today, and especially the Preface, remind us of our origins as Americans, of the pilgrims who came to this land searching for freedom, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. We thank God for this heritage of ours, but we must reflect on how we have carried on our forebears’ traditions of tolerance and freedom. We must admit there were times in our history when we denied freedom to others. So today can be a time of thanksgiving and a time of conversion. It is a time to call to mind the ideals of our country, why we were founded as a people and how we are living up to what we have been given as a sacred trust, a responsibility to share our goods the bounty of our land.
It seems to me that ideals have to be held before our eyes all the time, not just one day of the year. The same with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in everyday life can be either planned or spontaneous. Spontaneous thanksgiving usually happens when good luck comes our way, or something wonderful happens to us, or we achieve a goal of some kind. Planned thanksgiving usually has a specific reason behind it. Someone is recognized or given a reward or is retiring after thirty years of work. Everyone comes together and in a common moment gives thanks.
It is a little more difficult to dictate a day in the year as ‘Thanksgiving Day.’ What if you’re not in the mood? What if there was a tragedy in the family? I suspect that thousands of people in our country will find this Thanksgiving Day very difficult because of September 11th.
But all in all we Americans are quite remarkable in the way we travel thousands of miles to be home for Thanksgiving. The nation more or less shuts down so people can share a great meal together. We can ask ourselves: how can you mandate a people to be thankful, to turn to God and give thanks? Well, you really can’t, and this is the challenge of Thanksgiving Day: To make it seriously a day for thanking God and not just another holiday with a totally secular bias.
As Christians and monks we can certainly be thankful for all we have received this year, but we need to go deeper into ourselves to find the source of Thanksgiving, the reason for our joy. St. Paul reminds us, “Always be thankful.”To do this we have to find the place within our hearts where the Holy Spirit is always praying and interceding for us, the place where Jesus is always receiving and returning love to the Father, the place where we have the source of our being, the fountain of holiness. From this place we praise the mystery of our sharing in the Divine Life of God. Praise and thanksgiving go together. Our whole liturgy is in fact a hymn of Praise and Thanksgiving.
The Eucharist we celebrate today is the great prayer and action of Jesus thanking and praising the Father. It is the offering of His life to the Father and we are brought into that prayer and action. Here is where we live and move and have our being.
The leper who returned to thank Jesus had a double healing: his skin and his heart. On the surface of our lives we have a lot to be thankful for in our country. And in the place of our heart where our faith, hope and love live, we are always praying in the Spirit, giving praise to God through Jesus who offers his life daily.
[Scripture Readings: Sir 50:22-24; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Lk 19:11-28]
May his mercy be faithfully with us;
May he redeem us in our own time. –Sirach 50:24.
Do you remember what happened on Thanksgiving Day ten years ago? Or five years ago, or even last year? Probably not. At least in the monastery Thanksgiving Days blend together, and I suspect it is the same for most people. But whenever Thanksgiving Day comes around, my mind goes back to those family meals of my youth. Everything else about the day is a blur, but I can still see us sitting around the table — I can even recall what clothes we were wearing. After fifty plus years it is still a vivid picture; with a little reflection I can even capture the “feel,” the “taste,” of the day. No matter what has happened through the years, those original Thanksgivings have cast their spell over us. Distance has given us a very selective memory. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. It is how the romanticism of myth works.
The ancient monk Cassian, or as the Eastern Church would call him, “St. Cassian”, has a wonderful descriptive phrase for our memory. He calls it the “jar of the heart.” We can open this jar anytime we want and take in the rich aroma of past events. Today we can actually smell the food and taste the togetherness of the family, experience again the harmony and the security of our childhood. Memory and distance have a wonderful way of creating something beautiful for our minds to feast on. .
In today’s liturgy the little snippets taken out of the whole Bible follow the same pattern as our memory. The first reading is meant to fit into our understanding of Thanksgiving Day, our national holiday when we take time to pause and look back over our lives and thank God for his bounty, for his rich mercy to us. We can take the words of this reading as a brief prayer in the form of a blessing: “Now bless the God of all things. May he grant us cheerful hearts and bring peace in our times, in Israel for ages on ages.” .
Did anything happen to you when the reader came to those words: “in Israel for ages on ages”? Did your mood change? Did your heart go cold? Think of it for a minute: “bring peace in our time, in Israel for ages on ages.” Israel is a symbolic place, like Zion or Jerusalem. It stands for the Kingdom of God. But it is also a real place. It is Palestine in the year 2000. Our Thanksgiving Day is a symbolic place and a real place. Thanksgiving Day 2000 is not yet part of our memory. It has not yet been seasoned in the jar of our heart. Right now it has all the harsh ingredients of our modern world. Israel is a place of violent disharmony. In the United States, our presidential election is unfinished, unsettled, undignified. Many, many things in our world are wrong. And so the prayer of Sirach is most appropriate: “May God bring peace in our time. May his mercy be faithfully with us, may he redeem us in our own time.” .
“Our own time.” We have to live in our own time. We do, of course, live in many time zones. Often the most difficult one is the present. The past and the future have the mercy of distance. The present time bears down on us. It has to be redeemed by mercy and gratitude. .
Ten were cured of leprosy, but only one remembered to return and thank Jesus. The other nine forgot they had leprosy and ran off thinking they were cured, but really only one person was cured, and he was a Samaritan. .
Maybe there are only a few praying for mercy for our world today. Maybe there are only a few able to thank God for what they see. Maybe there are only a few who can live in the world with compassion. May we be among the few who return to thank Jesus for our past and our future and above all for our present time, “our own time.”
“May he redeem us in our own time.”