Learning to be thankful is a life-long journey Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008 -- 1:00 AM

In his writing prime, Mark Twain reportedly earned five dollars for each word that he wrote in articles that were published.

Even without considering inflation, this is good pay. A friend once playfully sent him a letter with a five dollar bill enclosed. He requested that Mark Twain send him his favorite word.

Mark Twain wrote back one word, "Thanks!"

'A sign of spiritual maturity'

Thanks also seems to be one of Jesus' favorite words. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus cured 10 lepers of this horrible disease. But only one leper returned to praise and thank God. This man was a Samaritan, an outsider. Jesus asked, "Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?"

It seems to me that gratitude comes from the ability to recognize and to express our appreciation for the gift of a blessing. Gratitude is a grace for which we should pray. In the weekday preface number P-40 of daily Mass are the words, "Father, all powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift."

Becoming a thankful person is a life-long journey of grace. Gratitude is a sign of spiritual maturity that must be learned.

Willie, a middle-aged man, learned to be more grateful during a retreat. The retreat director asked the retreat participants to reflect upon a person or persons who influenced their lives, but whom they had never thanked. Willie recalled a high school teacher who helped him through a difficult time in his life. Then he realized that he had never thanked her for her gift of help.

So he wrote her a letter and thanked her for teaching him and especially for helping him through his adolescent difficulty. A few days later, he received this reply:

Dear Willie,

I am lingering like the last leaf of summer in a nursing home. You will be pleased to know that I have taught for 50 years and yours is the first note of thanksgiving that I ever received. It cheered me up as nothing has in years. Thank you and God bless you.

Expressing gratitude

By celebrating Thanksgiving Day, we imitate not only the gratitude of Willie and his teacher, but especially the gratitude of the pilgrims. Despite a long hard winter when half of the pilgrims died from scurvy, other diseases, and exposure to the elements, those who survived were so grateful to God for helping them to survive the winter that they invited their Indian friends to share a three-day feast of thanksgiving

Like the pilgrims, on Thanksgiving Day we gather with family and friends to share a common meal, renew and deepen friendships, and to give praise and thanks to God for our cornucopia of blessings.

Thanksgiving at Mass

Since the word Eucharist means thanksgiving, it is appropriate for us Catholics to give thanks to God for our blessings by participating in a Thanksgiving Day Mass. At Mass we can thank God for the greatest gift of all, Eternal Life. We can also offer the gift of ourselves to our Heavenly Father and pray for the grace to be a good steward.

Our lives, our health, our talents, everything we have, is ultimately a gift from God to be used in helping to build up the kingdom of God by Christ-like sharing with others, especially the needy.

The opening prayer of the Thanksgiving Mass invites us to be thankful by sharing our blessings. The prayer includes these words "Father .  .   . On Thanksgiving Day we come before you with gratitude for your kindness: open our hearts to concern for our fellow men and women that we may share your gifts in loving service."

Share with those in need

St. John Chrysostom wrote, "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life." In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus reminds us that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and help the needy in Christ-like ways, we do so to Christ. And God will reward us.

We can share with those in need by contributing to a food pantry, a charity, or by helping the needy in other ways. We can also call or write a lonely person, visit a shut-in, or share our blessings with someone in need.

Participation in a Thanksgiving Day Mass can motivate us to bring a more thankful attitude to our Thanksgiving meal. Perhaps we can invite someone who has no family to join us for our Thanksgiving dinner.

At our Thanksgiving meal we can share a blessing for which we are thankful. We can also pray for starving persons who would gladly devour the scraps from our meal if they could.

Like Willie we can resolve to thank someone whom we have never thanked or whom we take for granted. If we ask, the Holy Spirit will show us additional ways to give thanks.

May we recognize everyday opportunities to thank God for our blessings. For thanks seems to be one of Jesus' favorite words.

Learning to be thankful is a lifelong journey of grace and a sign of spiritual maturity. May this Thanksgiving Day be another step in that journey. May we enjoy a grateful thanksgiving and help others do the same.

Fr. Donald Lange is pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.