Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving: A Day To Take Your Gratitude To A Deeper Level

(Thanksgiving Day, 2004: This homily was given on November 25, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 17: 11-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2004]

Today is a day to go deeper.

Every day is a day to give thanks (or at least it SHOULD be; gratitude should be part of the very fabric of our lives as Christians), but all too often our thanksgiving can be rather superficial—at least I’ve found that mine can be. And so, on the 4th Thursday of November each year, we are encouraged as Americans to go a little deeper, and to reflect on some of the more important reasons why we should be grateful: grateful to God (first and foremost), and grateful to the people who are God’s chosen instruments in our lives.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean when I talk about “going deeper.” Each year at Thanksgiving time, our diocesan newspaper, The Providence Visitor, sponsors an art and essay contest for young people. The prizewinners are named in the Visitor’s pre-Thanksgiving edition. (That edition came out last Thursday.)

One of those who received an award this year was Russell Laudone, a sixth grader at St. Pius X School. Let me read to you now his brief essay, and then offer a comment on it:

“My name is Russell. I am a 12-year-old boy and I have a unique kind of family. My brother and I are adopted. I am grateful for my adoptive parents because they take wonderful care of me and my brother. I am also lucky because my brother will take me places like Blockbusters. I have 13 great cousins. Some of them live near me and some live far away, but they’re always willing to play. I also have a neighborhood filled with lots of friends.
“I am most thankful that my natural parents loved me enough not to get an abortion. They gave me up for adoption because they could not take care of me. I will always love them for making that decision. I thank God for letting me be a part of this family. I really do love them all.”

That essay is only two paragraphs long, but it says a great deal.

Now the interesting thing is, Russell could have stopped writing when he came to the end of the first paragraph; it was not necessary that he write the second. Once he had spoken about his adoptive parents, his brother, his cousins and his friends, he could have made the choice to put down his pen. He could have legitimately ended his expression of gratitude at that point.

But he didn’t. He took it to the next level. He went a little deeper by reflecting on his birth, and on the courageous decision his natural parents made in giving him life! Because, as we all know—and as he knows—his parents could have made the decision to terminate his existence in the womb (that was a legal option they had). And I’m sure there were some who counseled his mother and father to do just that. But, to their great credit, his parents chose life even in the midst of difficult and emotionally painful circumstances.

Because young Russell Laudone took his reflection to a deeper level in this way, his gratitude has increased—and so has his joy. That’s very clear from the way his essay ends: “I thank God for letting me be a part of this family. I really do love them all.”

In today’s Gospel we heard about 10 lepers whose bodies were completely healed by Jesus. Yet only one returned to say “Thank you.” Hopefully all of them were grateful that Jesus had made them well, but only one took his gratitude to a deeper level such that he was inspired to go back to our Lord and speak with him. To this man Jesus said, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

With those words this healed man learned a valuable lesson that his 9 ex-leper friends didn’t. He learned that his faith was primary! He learned that his faith was even more important than his physical healing; that his relationship with Jesus on the inside was more important than the condition of his body on the outside.

Hopefully he took that lesson to heart; hopefully he allowed it to guide him during the rest of his life on this earth.

If he did, then there can be little doubt where he is right now; there can be little doubt where he went when he died.

The bottom line is this: “going a little deeper” with your gratitude always brings insights and always has benefits—sometimes eternal ones!

Today the Lord invites us to do this with respect to our own lives. And a great time to start is when we go back to our pews after we receive Communion at this Mass! Since Jesus is with us in a unique way at that moment, our prayer to him should be, “Lord, open my eyes! Help me to see your blessings more clearly. Take my gratitude to a deeper level.”

When that prayer is answered—and I believe it will be if we continue to pray it daily—then we will be blessed in the same way that the healed leper was blessed; in the same way that young Russell Laudone was blessed.