November 27, 2014
Tom Purcell
Creighton's Heider College of Business
click here for photo and information about the writer


Thanksgiving Day
Lectionary: 943

Sirach 50:22-24
Psalm 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Luke 17:11-19
Praying Ordinary Time

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  Other countries and cultures also have annual or seasonal celebrations during which they publicly express their gratitude for good fortune.  In the U.S. this is a day when families gather to enjoy feasts of various good things to eat and to generally relax.  

I have always liked the story of the ten lepers.  I grew up in a family in which manners were always enforced and so I have been mystified since I first heard this parable about how only one cured man came back to thank his Lord.  What happened to the other nine?  Were they so distracted by the crowds gathering around them in awe, or their friends and family rejoicing with them, that they forgot to thank the One who cured them?  Did they just take this miracle for granted and conclude they were “due” for some good luck because they had suffered for so long?  Were they skeptical that this was some magic that would somehow reverse itself and revert them back to their agony?

Who knows?  Perhaps a better source of reflection might be how are we different, or the same as, the nine lepers or the one who returned?  We probably think we are like the grateful one, but how often do we act like the selfish nine?  And before we conclude we are like the one, shouldn’t we ask how are we grateful in situations of less dramatic circumstances than a miraculous cure of an incurable disease?

I know that all of us have been blessed in many ways, perhaps in ways we do not appreciate.  We can think of all the aspects of our daily lives that someone from even 50 years ago would find to be “miraculous” – starting with the fact that we are reading this reflection on some type of electronic device.  Perhaps we ourselves, or a family member, have been ill recently and received a course of antibiotics, or have diabetes or heart disease or cancer and have been successfully put on a regimen that prolongs life.  Most of us probably do not need to struggle for the basic necessities of life in the same way our grandparents or great grandparents did.  If we seek entertainment, a library of most of the books and movies and television shows ever made is just a couple of clicks away.  If we want to travel, we can make arrangements in a matter of minutes.    

I could go on listing many good things.  I could also list what seem to be bad things – death, and disease, and misfortune – hidden gifts that help us move closer to God and deepen our faith.  But the value of this lesson from the parable, I think, is how do we give thanks for the wondrous and mundane in our own lives, for the blessings and the challenges, for all that happens to us. 

Consider –

  • The time in history in which we have been created
  • The place in the world in which we have been born and raised
  • The family that nurtured us
  • The individual traits and talents that we possess
  • The people with whom we live and love and interact
  • The breath we just took

My former spiritual director, Fr. Jack Zuercher, SJ, who died a couple years ago, composed a prayer that helps me focus on gratitude on many levels.  He invited the pray-er to enter a quiet space, and then to focus for a few minutes, in sequence, on three levels of awareness of God’s creation.  His prayer of gratitude was:

Thank you Lord, for the gift of life, in all its wonder and magnificence

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of my life, with all its rewards and challenges

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this moment in my life, for how You are revealed to me at this instant in creation.

I am not always a regular pray-er in Z’s suggested approach.  I neglect to be grateful for the many gifts I have received and sometimes forget to consider the blessings that are coming to me in the challenges I face.  I am many times like the nine instead of the one, and take for granted the good fortune in my life and neglect to understand the bumps in the road.  But I try, and days like today remind me to try.  And, praying as Z suggests can make every day a day of Thanksgiving.

And so my prayer today is for the gift to be like the one, more often than like the nine, to be in awe of every gift I receive, and to thank the Giving God who loves me without limit.

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