“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” Robert Frost once put it, perhaps too aptly for some of us. If that’s how we feel about our families, why should we look forward to Thanksgiving? Can we maintain excitement about sitting around the table with our (obnoxious, selfish, rude) family members? For those of you wish pristine family relations, consider momentarily those less glorious moments. If our greatest hope is “a good time,” annual disappointment probably awaits.
But what if there is meaning, opportunity, and even glory for us sinners and our work-in-progress families? First, let’s not think of anyone else as a lost cause. Then, let’s not view any particular moments as a waste of time. In the Scriptures, we are commanded to give thanks “always and for everything.” Or as Job, the man who suffered immensely, puts the question, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Thankfulness should be the starting point of our hearts and minds. It should not be a conditional choice we reserve for the moments we get what we want from God. Surely we make it a point to thank God for answered prayers, for blessings we recognize flowing from His mercy, and for salvation from physical or spiritual threat. But not only these. For Jesus modeled thankfulness as the standard mode when we encounter with God. Before multiplying the loaves, Jesus gave thanks. At the Last Supper, Jesus established thankfulness as the foundation for this mysterious encounter with God. This is why the Greek word for giving thanks, eucharistia, is our standard name for this divine moment. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them…” This moment deserves our gratitude by the very fact that we are able to receive his very life, his loving presence, into our bodies and souls. “Then he took a cup, gave thanks.” (see Luke 22).
Jesus gave thanks in the midst of a meal that preceded his torture and death. We cannot accomplish this impossible task – gratitude in the face of suffering. But Christ desires to give us the grace to take on this necessary work. For He is a God of the impossible.
Thanksgiving can be a chance to love our families, to recognize blessings in the midst of pain, and to establish gratitude as our baseline attitude.
Don’t wait for a favorable attitude to give thanks. Gratitude is a choice you can make today. Presumption and despair are both uprooted by gratefulness. “Thank you” is the medicine that goes from the lips to the heart – it helps us see God’s blessings where we thought there were none. Start by thanking God for your shoes and your socks, your breakfast and your coat, the use of your thumb and your taste buds. Go through the alphabet and thank God for something from each letter: start with Aunt so-and-so and finish with zeppoles. If you feel owed, cheated, or neglected, turn your eyes toward what don’t deserve: God’s gracious gift of salvation. When the priest breaks the bread, join your life to that Eucharistic moment. When your family sits to break bread, ask God to unleash his grace to transform pain into gratitude – if he accomplished it on Holy Thursday, surely he can do it this Thanksgiving Thursday.
-This reflection was originally written for the Crozet Mass Bulletin.