On behalf of Fr Peterson, our deacons Ted Weise & Joe Krempl and all of our parish staff I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. We are grateful for your presence at this Thanksgiving Day Mass.
For many Americans, myself included, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. It has the simplicity of a family gathering for a meal. But it also has great profundity. After all giving thanks, gratitude, is the very heart of our natural and spiritual life.
For us as Catholics our central act of worship is called Eucharist, which is a Greek word for Thanksgiving. In the Mass we give thanks to God thru Jesus. And we share a sacred meal.
But before we talk about supernatural thanksgiving, letís talk about its natural everyday importance. Iíve come to believe there are basically two types of people in our world. Those who know how to give thanks and those who donít. The grateful and the ungrateful. Todayís Gospel tells about the ten lepers Jesus healed. Only one returned to give thanks. It is about the same percentage today.
Even if we have received a lot we will be miserable if we donít know how to give thanks. I heard about a priest who visited a man who had just built a beautiful new house with a lovely garden. After inspecting and survey the grounds, the priest said, "you must be very happy." The man turned to him with a sad face and said, "No, look at those shrubs over there. How poorly they are trimmed. I just canít get the gardener to do it right."
On the other hand I met people down in Peru who had virtually nothing. They lived in an adobe hut with the most meager food for themselves and their children. But when I would visit their homes, they could share a cooked potato and a fried egg with great love. And to be grateful for the sun, the rain, all blessings from God.
Thanksgiving is the key to any happiness in this life. In fact we could say, thanksgiving is a way of life. I remember when I was high school reading an essay called, "The Secret of a Smile." It explained a way of smiling even if you feel afraid, or angry or even sad. What it said to do is before you enter a room with people in it, to put those other things to one side, think about something you really have to be grateful for. Maybe something good that happened earlier or some friend you are looking forward to meeting. True gratitude will always bring a smile. It is not a false face. No, a smile actually changes how we feel inside. It can lead us to a new way of life based on gratitude.
That way of life we are trying to teach to our young people. One of the most important commandments is "honor your father and mother." That means first and foremost being grateful to God for the gift of life and our place in this world. It is really a commandment all of us need to meditate on, whether our parents are living or dead. Honoring them is the most basic natural level of gratitude.
But there is a supernatural level as well. When we come to Mass, we are reminded of it. Everything we have and all that we are comes from God. This past month we have tried to underline that principle when we talked about Sacrificial Giving. Some people say, "I donít like to go to church. Father is always asking me for money." I can understand that if a person starts out saying, "What I have is mine. It belongs to me because I worked hard for it. People are always trying to take some of mine away from me." We have to be careful with the word "mine." Like last Sundayís Gospel reminded us, we can wind up in hell clinging to what is "mine" not sharing it.
Our starting point is radically different. Everything I have, even the hard work to obtain it, is ultimately a gift from God. It belongs to Him, not me. I am a steward, an administrator of that gift. Today we symbolize that at our Mass. On one table we have items from our own Thanksgiving table which will be blessed, then taken back homeóas a reminder that all we have is from God. Part of our gratitude this year should be for the sharing of cultures that makes our Thanksgiving dinner possible. Those of us who are of European descent should recognize where most of our dinner comes from. Foods like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee and of course the turkey itself. We owe them to the ingenuity of the Native peoples of America. Here at Holy Family we need to be thankful for sharing of cultures that is happening right here. It will surely bring us a greater variety of food, but a lot of other blessings as well.
I am grateful for being your pastor. Last I was reminded what a beautiful parish this is. A young couple who had been here for a few years was returning to a the Midwest. I gave them a blessing for their journey and they shared with me that Holy Family was the parish where they felt most welcome and at home. Our weekend Mass attendance reflects that welcoming spirit. When we did the Mass count those three weekends, it turned out we have an average of more than 2,500 at our five weekend Mass. What makes a difference to a new person is a friendly smile, a handshake a greeting.
We can be grateful to God for our parish family. The food on the tables below is a concrete sign of that gratitude. But that gratitude is also represented by the food we share with the needy. That food will be distributed by our parish St Vincent de Paul to needy families right here in our parish. Our collection today will also go to the needy.
As we share a family meal, here and in our homes, we also are challenged to share with those less fortunate.