On the eve of Thanksgiving Day and the season of Advent, a few thoughts ...
The Jews Say ‘Blessing’ and ‘Thank You.’
The Jews learned from their Exodus experience that they could never thank God enough for their deliverance. The Passover meal, celebrated in a hurry, was filled with praise and thanksgiving for the wonders God did in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. The Jews pray psalms of blessing and thanksgiving every day, but in the Passover banquet, these psalms held a special significance.
As the Chosen People, the Jews accepted the Covenant which encompassed the whole life of the nation and the individual, every aspect of prayer, observation, and work. Every thought, activity, and deed was an act of fidelity, thanksgiving, and love. God’s gift of Self to the Jews awaited their response of thanksgiving and love. To be a Jew has always meant to pray with joy, praise, and thanksgiving.
The Last Passover Meal
The Passover, celebrated by Jesus and the Twelve, memorialized the glorious history of the Jews, and it has continued to this day. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we Catholics thank the Father for having given us his sacrificial son for our food and nourishment. The word Eucharist of itself, means thanks. Since that Last Supper, like the Orthodox Christian Churches, Catholics have celebrated the mandate of the Lord, “Do this . . . .” Whenever we “do this,” we can never say thank-you enough.
“Where are the other nine?”
In the Lucan gospel (17:11ff), we see a very human Jesus, a Jesus who expresses hurt at ingratitude. He has cured ten lepers who have gone off to show themselves to the priest. When one of them, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus, quite naturally he asks: “Weren’t ten made clean? Where are the other nine?”
It may be a cliché, but it is still true that every person born into this world is a singular and unique creation. With this bestowal of life comes a spectrum of gifts given outright. In the Matthean gospel (25:14ff), the master entrusts three servants gold pieces—talents of different amounts. Two invest them and reap twice the amount. The one servant buries his one talent; he is called “wicked and lazy.” The lesson cannot be missed. Psychologists tell us that most people fail to develop their talents to the full. Instead they moan about the talents they have not received.
Psalms of Thanksgiving
For the Jews the psalms of thanksgiving were prayed typically after psalms of lament, and of distress. In 2013, there are countless things for which Americans can give thanks. Among the psalms of thanksgiving are: Psalms: 9, 10, 22, 30, 31, 40, 41, 66, 73, 89, 92, 103, 114, 115, 116, and 138.
We can never say thank-you enough . . .
• For the gift of life. “For so many marvels I thank you; a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders” (Ps 139:14).
• For talents received. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49).
• For the ability to think, to reason and to read, to remember and imagine, and to decide for ourselves. With these gifts, we participate in God’s very own being. “You have given all to me. I now return it to you to be used simply as you wish” (Prayer of St. Ignatius, “Take, Lord, receive”).
• For the precious gift of faith. So many Catholics have abandoned their faith, while others are searching for the riches within the Church. Still others have suffered martyrdom for the faith. During this first week of Advent, the Church celebrates the lives of two Jesuit priests and saints, Edmund Campion on December 1st and Francis Xavier on December 3rd.
• Campion (d 1581) was a bright rising star during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and is today revered in England and Wales. He was determined to restore Protestant Tudor England to its original Catholic unity. At Oxford, his learning, refinement, charisma and charm, endeared him to Elizabeth, but he would not acknowledge her as the head of the Church in England. The charge for this crime? He was a Catholic (Papist). Campion was sentenced to death, like thousands of Papists before him, but not before he was racked several times and subsequently hanged, drawn, quartered, and dragged through the streets. For him, faith was that precious pearl for which he was willing to suffer martyrdom. “Campion’s Brag,” defends his mission and purpose in England, and this oration became a source of strength and encouragement to those who might waiver in their defense of the faith.
• Francis Xavier (1552) was one of the early Jesuits and, next to St. Paul, he is the greatest missionary the Church has known. At the College of Sainte-Barbe in Paris, Francis the extrovert cut a handsome figure in his stylish clothes, and his personality won him friends. He lived with panache. Once Xavier committed himself to the Company of Jesus, he accepted the task Ignatius of Loyola entrusted to him. He traveled thousands of miles to bring the Gospel to the Orient. First in India (1542-1551) and then in Japan (1549-51), there were reports of miracles and the gift of tongues. He died alone on the island of Sancian after a life filled with zeal for souls.
The Power of One
Campion and Xavier are our antidotes against mediocrity. In each, we see the power of one. Each had an almost divine extravagance about his person, ‘giving all and not counting the cost.’ In both, there grew a beauty of holiness more thrilling than any natural beauty or work of art. For them, we give thanks. And for all our blessings, we cannot say thank-you enough.