The date for Thanksgiving in our nation is fixed for the fourth Thursday of November, which causes the celebration this year to be as late as possible on Nov. 28. Because of this, we have more time to spend in preparation for this uniquely American holiday free from the rushing around that occurs during the days before Christmas. It is important to recall that the basis of Thanksgiving is gratitude for that upon which our nation was founded in order to provide a place where one could worship God in freedom and where opportunity would be provided equally for all. From even before its formal foundation, those who came to this great land thanked God for all it provided in regard to its natural freedom and resources. We have much to be thankful for and, as we gather for Thanksgiving this year, we shall continue to implore God’s providence as we celebrate the American spirit of gratitude and hope. There certainly is in our nation today much reason to recall the need for giving thanks when so many other challenges and problems can distract us. A lack of gratitude for an abundance of gifts is a human condition which afflicts not only our present generation but many before it.
The incident of the 10 lepers in the Gospels (Lk 17:11-19) is a very good one that points out how easy it is not to give thanks when there is much for which to be thankful. This Gospel passage is one that is often used during the Thanksgiving season and at the Mass on Thanksgiving Day. We recently heard this account on Oct. 13 of this year, the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. Jesus met 10 lepers who asked to be cured of their terrible affliction. When Jesus granted their plea, only one of them returned to give thanks to the Lord for his cure. The one who returned was a Samaritan, unlike the other nine who were of Jewish background. This prompted Jesus to question why only one of the 10 came back to thank him. He showed astonishment that the ones who should have been the most expected to come back to give thanks did not. This incident prompts us to realize how easy it is to take for granted what we have and not to express gratitude to God for the gifts which he has abundantly given to us. This is especially true when we experience so many people in our nation and around the world who lack many goods and would be grateful to have them.
There are many reasons which may have caused the nine cured lepers not to return to thank Jesus for the great miracle they had experienced. One reason may be that the nine lepers felt that the Lord really did not need or want to be thanked. After all, he was the Son of God and had the ability to perform the cure. They may have felt he did not need the thanks and would have known of it anyway. Another reason is that they may have intended to thank the Lord but put it off for another time because they became quickly preoccupied with other matters. New concerns and things to be done gave them reason not to do the most obvious. Perhaps the nine lepers did not come back to thank Jesus because they took the cure for granted. Once they were cured, they now had new things they wanted from God and were looking ahead too much for these things. While we can reflect on many reasons that the nine lepers did not return, it is important to reflect upon the one who did come back to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is an essential part of who we are as made in the image and likeness of God. While we can encounter many things as one family, it is essential to express gratitude if we truly wish to encounter ourselves and our loving God.
In his homily for the canonization of five new saints, this year on the 23rd Sunday of ordinary time, including John Cardinal Henry Newman, Pope Francis spoke a great deal about the Gospel reading for that Sunday in his homily. He did not conjecture, as I just did, as to the reasons why the nine lepers did not return to thank Jesus. In fact, he identified the things which united the ten lepers and were an assistance to them in their human condition. He did emphasize how the leper who came back to thank Jesus fulfilled what united the lepers as human beings and brought him to the realization of freedom and joy through the miracle. The thankless lepers lacked this realization.
Pope Francis expressed that the first thing that united the lepers was that they cried out. Because of the dreadful disease which they possessed, as well as their being excluded from society due to it, they cried out to Jesus at a distance when they encountered him. They did not let themselves be separated from God because they were shunned by society. They cried out to the Lord in their need and the Lord heard them. The Pope expressed how we must all not hesitate to cry out in prayer to God. We must realize that we all need to be healed and we can only be so if we cry out to the Lord. It is also important for us to realize that we do so as a family and that our prayer as a family makes a difference.
Pope Francis expressed that the second thing that united the lepers was that they walked. The Gospel emphasized how the lepers walked together to encounter Jesus from a distance and how they were cured as they walked away from Jesus. The Pope emphasized that they moved together and not on their own. It was their walking together that united them in their illness and their walking together that found them cured. It is precisely their walking together that drew the attention to the reality which astonished Jesus that only one walked back to thank him. The Pope emphasized that it is the responsibility of all of us who celebrate the Eucharist as an act of thanksgiving, to point the way to those who have lost their way.
The final action which is essential to the fullness of the healing which Jesus had affected is found in the Samaritan who returned to thank the Lord. While the others were cured, it is only this man who knew the fullness of the healing since he came back to Jesus who is the source of life. Pope Francis expressed that, “Only an encounter with him can save, can make life full and beautiful. Whenever we meet Jesus, the word ‘thanks’ comes immediately to our lips, because we have discovered the most important thing in life, which is not to receive the grace to resolve a problem, but to embrace the Lord of life.”
To cry out, to walk, to give thanks are essential to the cure of the lepers. While the nine lepers experienced a good part of the journey and the healing, it is only the Samaritan who gave thanks who completed the journey for his life. While the others had faith in Jesus and his ability to heal them and supported each other in their journey, it was only the Samaritan leper who experienced the culmination of the journey of faith by his thanksgiving. In this regard, Pope Francis expressed beautiful words for us to reflect upon at Thanksgiving: “A grateful heart is one that remains young. To say a single ‘thank you Lord’ when we wake up, throughout the day and before going to bed: that is the best way to keep our hearts young, because hearts can grow old and be spoilt. This also holds true for families, and between spouses. Remember to say thank you. Those words are the simplest and most effective of all.”
As we continue to cry out and to walk, let us most of all give thanks to God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon us. I give thanks to God for the blessing of all of you, your faith and the life you bring to our Diocese in so many different ways. Thank you and a Blessed Thanksgiving.