Howard Hughes vs. Dostoevsky

(Thanksgiving Homily)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Maybe it is because I need it so much. I can easily focus on the things that go wrong rather than being grateful for my blessings. And when things are going well, I can start to take it for granted, even imagine that I have a right to the blessings I have received.

In our Thanksgiving Day Gospel, Jesus – in a dramatic way – brings home the importance of gratitude. He cures ten lepers and when only one returns to thank him, he asks, “Where are the other nine?” It might not seem like a fair question since Jesus himself had told them to go and show themselves to the priest. However, they failed to obey a deeper law – a law written in all our hearts – the law of gratitude. Only the Samaritan – the foreigner – obeyed that fundamental law: to express thanks for gifts received. In this case, the gift was awesome. They had been cured of a disfiguring disease which not only caused physical suffering, but made them outcasts from society. Jesus praised the Samaritan for returning to give thanks.

Sometimes people have enormous gifts, but are unhappy because they do not have grateful hearts. An extreme example is Howard Hughes. Practically the richest man in the world, you would think he had every reason to be happy. But he seemed to look at life not as a gift, but as something he could control. His fear of other people – and his morbid fear of germs – caused him to completely isolate himself. Possessing great abundance, he died alone and miserable.

An opposite example is the Russian novelist, Feodor Dostoevsky. As a young intellectual in Petersburg, he was arrested and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. He went from comfort to the most terrible suffering. Life as a convict was so oppressive that he considered giving up in despair. A ten-year-old young girl helped him change his thinking. She had seen Dostoevsky in the prison hospital because her dad, an army officer, had been taken there, where he died. A few weeks later, Dostoevsky and the other convicts were walking in chains through the streets of Omsk on their way to the forced labor. The girl saw him and ran up to him, “Poor unfortunate men,” she said, “in the name of Christ, take this.” And she place in his hand a kopek - a small coin, one hundredth of a ruble. Dostoevsky said that he treasured that kopek for a long time.

The girl’s gesture of compassion gave Dostoevsky hope in a very miserable situation. He eventually completed his prison sentence and went on to write novels which express the deepest compassion for human suffering.

Whatever our situation, whatever our trials, we want to recognize our lives not our right, but as a gift. On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge that our gifts do not belong to us, but are meant to be shared. Perhaps we do not have that much, but what we have, we want to share in the same spirit as that Siberian girl. She did it in the name of Christ. And her gift gave hope to a man in the midst of great trials.

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General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful) for Thanksgiving Day Mass

From Archives (Thanksgiving Day Homilies):

Without Gratitude
The Fundamental Freedom - Freedom of Religion
Great Dividing Line
The Power of Gratitude
Thanksgiving and Salvation
Howard Hughes vs. Dostoevsky
The Radical Virtue
Thanksgiving Day 1988

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