Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude FOR the Mass!

(Thanksgiving 2010: This homily was given on November 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2010]

When was the first Thanksgiving, and where was it celebrated?

Ask a 5th grader that question and he’ll probably respond by saying, “1621, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.”

Well, after this homily you can demonstrate that you are, in fact, smarter than a 5th grader by saying, “No, that’s actually NOT when the first Thanksgiving meal involving European explorers and Native Americans took place in what would eventually become the United States of America. According to Michael Gannon, a former professor of history at the University of Florida, a Thanksgiving meal involving explorers and Indians took place in 1565—56 years before the Pilgrims’ meal—when a group of Spanish Catholic colonists stepped ashore in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.”

It all happened on September 8. Here’s how the story was told in an article I read recently:

“On September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, captain general of the Indies fleet under King Philip, stepped ashore with 1,200 colonists and soldiers to found St. Augustine.

‘It was the fleet chaplain, Father Francisco Lopes de Mendoza Grajales, who first set foot in the sand. Thus honored, he welcomed the captain ashore.

‘The priest later recorded the moment, ‘I took a cross and went to meet him, singing Te Deum Laudamus [We Praise You God]. The General, followed by all—marched up to the cross, knelt, and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.’

‘The company celebrated a solemn Mass of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Sept. 8 feast in thanksgiving for safe travels. The native Timucua Indians again watched intently.

‘Following the Mass, the Spaniards and Indians ate together. ‘It was clearly a thanksgiving feast,’ says [Professor] Gannon, ‘the likes of which would not be seen again for 56 years.” (from ‘Catholic Pilgrims’ Progress,’ by Joseph Pronechen)

Now, unfortunately—at least for those of us who like turkey—that particular item was not on the menu for the feast. Instead, the colonists and Indians probably ate something called “cocido”—a stew made from salted pork, garbanzo beans and garlic.

Personally, I’ll stick with turkey—thank you very much!

But what’s really important here is the fact that the first Thanksgiving on American soil began with a Mass! So all of you who made the effort to be here today are actually observing a very old tradition—one that predates the Pilgrims by almost 60 years!

Share that fact with your relatives and friends later this afternoon—and tell them if they want to be true to the oldest Thanksgiving tradition in the country, they should resolve to be at Mass on Thanksgiving morning next year!

We pause as a nation on this day to give thanks to the Lord for all his many gifts to us—especially those that we so often take for granted.

Which brings us right back to the Mass! I think it’s safe to say that most Catholics (and I certainly include myself here) take the Mass for granted at times, because it’s so familiar to us. We can easily forget (or lose touch with) the fact that during the Mass we actually encounter Almighty God himself! The Creator of the universe speaks to us through the symbolic actions; through the songs; through the prayers; through the readings—and yes, even through the homily! Which is why we always need to be listening! Sometimes we don’t hear God speak to us during Mass, because we’re not listening. Our minds and hearts are somewhere else.

Now it would be enough of a blessing if God just spoke to us at Holy Mass, but he even goes one step further (one very BIG step further) and becomes our spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist.

Many years ago I gave a homily in which I said that the Mass is “our primary experience of hearing Jesus and receiving Jesus so that we can go out and live for Jesus.”

I stand by that definition today.

Having said all this, I hope you will join me this morning not only in being thankful at Mass; I hope you will also join me in saying a heartfelt thank you to God FOR the Mass!

Remember, the Mass, first and foremost, was God’s idea, since it was the Son of God who said at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

And if we’re really grateful for this gift of the Sacred Liturgy, here’s something we can do in the future to demonstrate it, in imitation of the leper who was healed in today’s gospel: we can resolve to make a Eucharistic Holy Hour from now on at least once a week.

Notice that the healed leper in this story demonstrated his gratitude to Jesus by doing something: he went back to Jesus, even though he did not have to. When we make a Holy Hour, we do something very similar: we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus for the Mass by going back to him in Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass when we don’t have to.

I think it’s crystal clear that Jesus was very pleased with this leper—this man who came back freely and willingly to express his gratitude in person.

And I have every reason to believe that Jesus is just as pleased with those men and women who come into Church freely and willingly (i.e., when they don’t have to!) to adore his Eucharistic Presence in the monstrance, or even in the tabernacle.

He gives them his special blessing—which is something else that they can be thankful for.