My first assignment was with Monsignor John Murphy at St. Thomas More Parish in Allentown. Among the many wise words he shared with me, I will never forget what he said one Thanksgiving Day: “I think this day should be a Holy Day of Obligation.” Indeed.
We owe God so much for what He has given to us and done for us. The Bible exhorts us to give Him thanks. Psalm 116:12 says, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me?”
St. Paul tells us, “Always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph. 5:20).
Ingratitude to God is a sign of paganism, according to St. Paul. In his letter to the Romans we read, “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him” (1:21).
True wisdom, however, helps us look at life differently. When we see the events of our lives from God’s perspective, we see just what He is accomplishing for our salvation. As years go by, we can become more grateful because we have a better perspective, even with a bit of humor, of how God has been leading us closer to His will and Himself. Even our mistakes, and dare we say, our sins, have led us to greater humility and dependency on His mercy.
But what about those difficult moments like sickness, deprivation and the cross? How can we give thanks for those things?
When they break into our lives, we need to remember that we are loved. In fact, at these moments we have a special opportunity to recall, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:35, 37). These difficult moments become times to cling to divine love and thus moments for which we can give thanks.
Thanksgiving is an exercise of hope. We see things from their eternal perspective and can understand how this moment of suffering, this challenging event, this person with whom I work, are all part of God’s loving plan for me. It is all a part of my path to heaven. The eternal life for which we hope as Christians, for which we are most grateful as God’s greatest gift, is the purpose of all that happens to me in this life.
St. Paul tells us, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Being a child of God helps us be more grateful. As divine children, all good things come from our loving Father. What did all our mothers teach us to say when someone gave us a gift? “Don’t forget to say thank you.”
Look around and see that all is a gift from God. Each day offers us multiple opportunities to give thanks. We can stop for a moment and say grace before and after meals. On Sundays we have an opportunity to make an act of thanksgiving after Mass for just a few moments instead of rushing out to the parking lot. Give thanks for some success, a beautiful day or a wonderful surprise.
For all the good things and even the bad, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 107:1). Just maybe Thanksgiving Day will become a Holy Day of Obligation.
By Monsignor Andrew Baker, a priest of the Diocese of Allentown, serving as rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.