Prepare to be heard

Homily of the month

Saying thanks

Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to take stock of how well we’re doing in the area of giving thanks to God and extending gratitude to our neighbor, writes Robert McClory in PREPARE THE WORD'S featured homily for Thanksgiving.

PREPARE THE WORD's library includes insightful sample homilies for funerals, sacraments, holy and feast days, and special occasions. We regularly add new homilies to the mix. Feel free to submit a homily you've written or from someone on your parish preaching team that you want to offer for consideration. Send homilies to mail@preparetheword.com.

Occasion: Thanksgiving Day
Readings: Luke 17:11-19

Some things really irritated Jesus, like the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of his time and the arrogance of political leaders who lorded it over their subjects. Ingratitude was also something that set Jesus off, and we have a vivid example of that in today's reading from Luke’s gospel.

Jesus tells the ten lepers who beg for his help to go and show themselves to the priests. They leave, and on their way all are healed. But when only one returns to give thanks to God and to the one who brought about this miracle, Jesus is obviously disappointed. And as he expresses his feelings, he seems almost to denigrate the one fellow who did return and throw himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet. “Has no one come back except . . . this foreigner?” he asks. We are catching a glimpse here of a very human Jesus registering hurt and indignation at the ingratitude of the other nine.

I think we can all relate to this scene because we all have had experiences similar to this one and have likely reacted much as Jesus did. Experiences like giving a gift to someone and never having it even acknowledged; like going out of your way to drive someone home and he just gets out of the car and walks into his house—and doesn’t even close the car door; like helping a family move into their new home, and when they’re all settled in you’re left standing out on the porch feeling alone and used.

Thankfully, this kind of ingratitude doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it hurts, it stings. So we should take from this story some consolation in knowing that Jesus, our brother and redeemer, was not so self-controlled as to be above letting off a little steam and showing his emotion right there in public. He put a high value on thankfulness.

Today is Thanksgiving, the holiday when we commemorate how the Pilgrims invited neighboring Native Americans over for dinner and gave thanks together with them for this beautiful, fruitful land. Depictions of that historic occasion usually freeze at the dinner scene and don’t go into what would happen in the decades and centuries to come. But that’s another homily.

For us, Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to take stock of how well we’re doing in the area of giving thanks to God and extending gratitude to our neighbor. Deep inside, I think most of us harbor an habitual sense of thanks, especially when we reflect on how everything we have is gift, from the wonders of this great blue planet that is our home to every breath we take.

For us, Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to take stock of how well we’re doing in the area of giving thanks to God and extending gratitude to our neighbor. Deep inside, I think most of us harbor an habitual sense of thanks, especially when we reflect on how everything we have is gift, from the wonders of this great blue planet that is our home to every breath we take.

Genuine gratitude toward our neighbor is something else because, ironically, we do it so often. “Thank you,” you say when your spouse drops you off at the train. “Thank you,” you say when the barrista hands you your mocha frapuccino. “Thank you,” when someone holds the door open for a few seconds as you enter a building. “Thank you,” when the boss hands you a report he wants finished by the end of the day!

And there’s the danger. “Thank you” is so standard, so common a phrase that it’s easy to get into the habit of doing it in a routine, thoughtless way so that it means nothing. Thanks can become a kind of reflex like a hiccup or a sneeze. A habit of thankfulness has merit only if it’s intentional, if we really mean it. It’s not very often you notice a shopper in a store pause, look a clerk in the eye, and say in a clear voice, “Thank you” as she picks up her purchase. More often folks like me are fumbling with change or trying to get the Visa card back in the darn wallet or turning toward the door as we mumble a barely audible “Thank ya.” But being grateful should not be restricted to a single day or to those momentous occasions when we are overwhelmed with good things. We ought to be able to say a genuine “thank you” even when we’re benefited in very small things.

Jesus spends a lot of time in the gospels giving thanks. He gave thanks over the bread as he blessed it at the Last Supper, and he gave thanks again as he blessed the cup. He had to know terrible things were about to happen, yet thanksgiving was at the front of his mind even then. The Apostle Paul got that message. He begins many of his letters to churches with long, drawn-out thanks—to God, to Christ, and to those who have helped him spread the gospel. In some epistles he even lists the names of the men and women to whom he is especially grateful.

We don’t often think of gratitude as a sacrament, as a means of salvation. In today’s gospel, however, that seems to be the case. After Jesus lets everyone know what he thinks about ingratitude, he leans down to the Samaritan, the foreigner, and says, “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” Your faith, embodied and expressed here in this humble gesture of thanks, is a holy thing, an opening to grace. That’s the message: A “thank you,” sincerely meant, may have a lot more power than we imagine.