Thanksgiving Homily, 2015
Sir 50: 20-24; 1 Cor 1: 3-9; Lk 21: 20-28
For what am I most grateful? Health? Life itself? Good fortune? My wife and family? The gift of Holy Orders into which I have been ordained? The Eucharist? My parents and siblings? My country? I could go on.
Yes, I am deeply grateful for all those things. I am the luckiest of all men, for I have been given much. Yet, I am most grateful for something else. I am grateful for the gift of faith which allows me to see God’s presence even in the darkest of times. With faith, I will get to heaven. Without it, I will be tormented. As we heard in the Gospel today, gratitude linked with faith brings salvation.
My health will someday leave me. My life on earth will someday end. My good fortune may take a turn for the worse. Without faith, my ministry will dry up, my reverence for the Eucharist will vanish, my pride in my country will erode, my family relationships will suffer without faith.
On a natural level, we want to be thankful for the good things of life. We know it’s only fair to be grateful for those things and people. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the virtue of gratitude is an extension of the cardinal virtue of justice and it is part of the natural law in every human being born into the world. It is part of our human nature to show such gratitude because it keeps us in harmony with others. Gratitude is an expression of basic human justice and it is an antidote to conflict and division among us. To be grateful is simply doing the right thing, the moral thing.
It is almost instinctual for humans to be grateful for the good things of life and to those who provide these good things to us. A grateful person, generally speaking, is a healthy person. A grateful person is usually at greater peace with himself and others than someone who is ungrateful. It is easy to like someone who is grateful for life and for the good things he enjoys. It is easy to give thanks for the good things of life, the pleasant and the beautiful things that are given to us, the things that give us comfort and security in life. It is natural to be grateful for these things.
So, if you want to be a better human being, practice gratitude. If you want a happier family life, practice gratitude. If you want peace in your relationships with neighbors and friends, practice gratitude because it will make you a more just person and others will respond favorably to you.
I know there are many people who seem to have little for which to be grateful, whose lives are truly painful, challenging, filled with problems and difficulties. It is their reality and they didn’t choose it. Thanksgiving day may be one more difficulty you face, not having family to be with, or peace in your life, or good things to enjoy. So I address you also.
Have faith! Yes, I know that is easy to say, and difficult to live. But have faith! It is difficult is to be grateful for the unpleasant, the difficult, the pain, the problems. It takes real faith to be grateful for the struggles, the challenges, the setbacks, the illnesses, and other naturally unpleasant and difficult things of life. It takes faith to see the presence of God working a miracle in you, desiring to make something beautiful out of it.
Remember, God doesn’t created bad things or desire your pain in life, but he allows it to be so he can transform it into a time of grace. God wants to give you life and love when you are distressed. Nothing is impossible for God, so he allows those difficult times in life, those setbacks, problems, illnesses into your life so he can take and transform them into something very beautiful, very grace-filled, something that will make you more life him — in other words — holy. In this way, if you have faith, faith which illuminates the hand of God at work in our lives, you can truly say you are grateful for those difficult times and events in our lives. I know I am asking something that seems unnatural and very difficult, but we have Jesus himself to show us how to do it, and many saints also.
No problem, no difficulty, no darkness that may come upon you can overcome the light of faith and the love of God for you. No matter how dark or bleak things may be, as long there is the light of faith, that faith will be a light that will mark the presence of God and allow him to take that darkness and turn it into light. For this kind of faith, I am most grateful.