Thanksgiving and Salvation

(Homily for Thanksgiving Day)

Bottom line: Thanksgiving is at the heart of salvation - a process that has two parts: God's initiative and our grateful response.

Today we celebrate a beautiful national holiday: Thanksgiving. This holiday is one of the things that is unique about our country. As far as I know, we were the first nation to set aside a day simply to give thanks to God. Throughout the world and in the United States, there are holidays to celebrate independence, victory in war, the arrival of spring and saints' days (like St. Patrick). All of those celebrations involve gratitude for specific things, but today is a holiday which is about gratitude itself.

This is a beautiful holiday for us as Christians because gratitude - or thanksgiving - is the heart of salvation. In the Gospel Jesus heals ten lepers; only one returns to give thanks. Jesus says to the grateful leper, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

Thanksgiving is at the heart of salvation. On this Thanksgiving Day, I would like to take a closer look at that process of salvation. From our Scripture readings we can see that salvation has two parts. The first part, we can say, is gold; the second part is silver.

The golden part is obviously the most precious so I will begin with it. The golden part of our salvation is God's action, his initiative, what we sometimes call "grace." The Old Testament reading describes God's initiative on a natural level. Sirach invites us to "bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth." Then he mentions that precious gift, the gift which makes all other gifts possible, the gift of life. God, he say, "fosters people's growth from their mother's womb, and fashions them according to his will!" God created the universe and our own planet. The entire history of the universe and of life on our planet focuses on the formation a child in his mother's womb. The formation of a human being is the most marvelous part of the natural world. Bless God for that. Thank him.

We see God's initiative not only in the birth of a child, but a process which we call re-birth. Here is where we find the real gold. Today's Gospel beautiful shows that process of rebirth. Our birth is beautiful, but unfortunately we are born into a world disfigured by sin - the sin of human beings before us and our own personal sin. Sin is like leprosy - a disease which begins on the extremities, but soon attacks the vital organs. Jesus wants to cure us our leprosy, give us a new birth in him. I am sure you will agree with me that such a rebirth can only be compared to something as precious as pure gold.

God's initiative in bringing us into the world and calling us to a new birth is pure gold. That is the first and most important part of our salvation. There is a second part, the silver part. Even though it is not as precious as the first part, it is still necessary. The silver part of our salvation is our personal response. We have to respond with gratitude.

Now, you might say, "If someone was cured of a terrible disease like leprosy, who wouldn't be grateful?" Well, we have the answer: about 90%. Nine out of ten did not return to thank Jesus. Now, gratitude seems obvious and easy, but it is not. It not only involves going out of our way, but it requires humility. Most of all, gratitude establishes a relationship with the giver.

In the ancient world they measured wealth in gold, but for ordinary currency they more used silver. Gratitude is the currency of our relationship with God - and with our parents, and with our family members and with our co-workers and friends. Gold is a the pure gift from God. But our reception of that gift is like silver. It is the currency of our lives, the daily means of exchange.

On today's observance of Thanksgiving, we recognize that gratitude is salvation. It is the joyful acceptance of God's gift of birth - and rebirth in Christ. Like the grateful leper in today's Gospel may we hear those beautiful words, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

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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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