Harvest festivals thanking God for favors received are common among all cultures and religions. Ritual feasts of thanksgiving to Yahweh were a vital part of the Israelite religion, which had two thanksgiving festival periods, one in the spring and one in the fall. The Catholic Church has never had a feast dedicated to thanksgiving – likely because thanksgiving is already an integral part of all liturgical celebration. During the 1900s, Catholics were marking Thanksgiving Day as many others were, with private family meals and celebrations, and, less so, by attending parades or other public events. It was not until 1969 that the American Bishops Committee on the Liturgy published Lectionary readings and prayers for a Mass specifically for Thanksgiving Day. (an excerpt from Thanksgiving Day and the Church, ©All Saints Press)
On Thanksgiving Day, we will read the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed of their afflictions. (Luke 17:11-19) Only one returned to say “thank you” – the one who was least expected to show gratitude because he was different from the others.
“Has none but this foreigner [a Samaritan] returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” (v. 18-19)
We know very little about the nine lepers who did not return. Most of the time, we assume that they were not grateful and turned away from any relationship with Jesus. I like to think that they were grateful, but just didn’t take the time to say “thank you.” It reminds me that it’s not enough to remember someone with a grateful heart. We need to make time to say “thank you” and to show gratitude in our actions.
Grateful actions can be life changing. In A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life (Hachette Books, 2011), John Kralik describes his commitment to writing a thank-you note each day for a whole year. He made this decision at an especially low point in his life. The daily notes were “for gifts or kindnesses he’d received from loved ones and coworkers, from past business associates and current foes, from college friends and doctors and store clerks and handymen and neighbors, and anyone, really, absolutely anyone, who’d done him a good turn, however large or small. Immediately after he’d sent his very first notes, significant and surprising benefits began to come John’s way–from financial gain to true friendship, from weight loss to inner peace. While John wrote his notes, the economy collapsed, the bank across the street from his office failed, but thank-you note by thank-you note, John’s whole life turned around.” (book jacket)
Inspired by Kralik’s memoir, I started to send cards with handwritten messages to thank people for gifts and kindnesses, to wish people well, to celebrate special occasions, and to express condolences. Many of the cards went to people who were on my prayer list for whatever was going on in their lives at the time. Some were sent simply to let people know that I was thinking of them – for no special reason. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm and commitment waned after about six months. I have now resorted to e-cards and e-mail notes. As much as I want to send handwritten notes, I no longer make the time.
November is a month for remembering – All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Veterans Day, two family birthdays, and Thanksgiving. We remember with gratitude past and present-day saints, veterans, family members, and all God’s gifts. This year, let’s try to add “thanking” to our remembering. To all those saints, veterans, family members, and God, let’s say “thank you” and show gratitude in our actions. Yes, some of these “thank-yous” will be e-cards and emails. Maybe we can add a special “thank you” in our Christmas cards this year. Let’s also add a smile and a simple “thank you” to the cashiers and baggers at the grocery store, the veterans at the mall who are collecting toys for Christmas, and the living “saints” who inspire us every day to be our better selves.
I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)