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Giving Thanks

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

There is a beautiful story about one of the greatest world leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  One day an elderly woman made an appointment to see the president.  When she entered his office, he welcomed her and asked, “How may I help you?” The woman responded in a quiet voice, “Mr. President, I know that you must be very busy.  I didn’t come to ask anything of you. I simply came because I heard that you liked certain cookies, and I decided to bake some for you.” After she gave them to her, she got up to leave.  However, she could see that there were tears in the president’s eyes. He smiled at her and said, “Madam, I thank you for your gift. I must tell you that during all the years of my presidency, many people have come into my office asking for favors and even demanding that I help them in various ways. But you are the very first and only person to come into my office and ask for nothing, but instead to bring me a gift of thanksgiving.  I thank you, and promise that I will never forget your act of love.”

How often do we ask, and even demand, things from God, and from those around us, while we don’t take time to thank God and others for all they have already done for us?  When did we last express gratitude to our parents, our spouse, our family, our friends and others around us? Do we daily thank God for our health, the food we eat, the home we live in, the work we have, the opportunities of life we experience, and all his rich blessings of love, joy, peace, hope and eternal salvation? Or instead, do we simply focus on what others have and we don’t have?

Too often, people turn to God when they are in trouble, or have a certain need, but when all is going well, they forget about God.  Many times, when bad things happen to us, we become angry and question God, “Why me, O Lord?”  However, when life is going well, and we are happy and content, do we stop and again ask, “Why me, Lord?”  Why do I deserve so many good things?

Two common sins we often make are 1) forgetting to say express our gratitude for our many blessings, or worse, 2) not being thankful for all we have, and even complaining about what we don’t have. 

Always remember a very important spiritual truth. The inability or forgetfulness of expressing gratitude reflects a spiritual sickness. Pride is lurking nearby. We do not thank others, because by thanking them, we have to acknowledge that they have done something special for us. Too many of us have a hidden pride which hinders this expression of gratitude.

God created us to be creatures of praise – people who continually praise our Creator and thank Him at all times. When we forget to do this, or ignore to do this, we reject a fundamental purpose of our lives! 

In the Psalms, King David and other writers thank God more than 60 times for his goodness, his love, and infinite blessings. One of the most beautiful passages comes from Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord O my soul, and do not forget all that he has done for me!”  Do not forget! We can never count the innumerable blessings of God, and we should express our gratitude to Him without ceasing

St. Paul condemns the ungrateful in his letter to the Romans, when he writes, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking.” (Rom 1:21)  St. Paul does not chastise the Romans because they do not know God, he reprimands them because they know God but do not thank Him!

More than 50 times throughout his letters, St Paul admonished his readers to thank God!  “Give thanks to God at all times” (Eph 5:20). “Give thanks to God in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (I Thess 5:18).  “Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2)  “In whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God” (Col 3:17).

Even our formal worship in the Church calls us to thanksgiving. Another name for the Divine Liturgy is the Eucharist (Eukaristia), which means, “to be thankful.” In the middle of each Liturgy, the priest turns to the people and says, “Let us lift up our hearts. Let us give thanks to the Lord.” Following this call to gratitude, the priest prays a prayer which enumerates all for which we should thank God, including our very existence, our salvation from sin, our entrance into His Kingdom, the promise of eternal life, and for every blessing seen and unseen.

In private prayers, make thanksgiving a central part of our daily prayers. Try to never ask for more things than for which you thank God. 

And don’t only make gratitude to God an integral part of your life, but learn to concretely thank all the people God brings into your life. How often people do something special for us, and we don’t properly acknowledge their act. Don’t let our pride determine our behavior. Let us continually humble ourselves, and thank all those around us - our parents for giving us life, our families for showing us love, our friends who stay near us during our times of need, our teachers and other special people who have inspired us, guided us, and enlightened us. When we pause and reflect on our lives, I am sure that numerous people have influenced our lives in positive ways. What is stopping us from thanking them with our words, by writing a letter, dropping them an email, and by expressing our gratitude in a concrete way.

Let me conclude with coming back to Abraham Lincoln. It’s fascinating that President Lincoln declared that last Thursday in November to be celebrated as a national holiday a Day of Thanksgiving in 1863. That was right in the midst of the Civil War – a time of great calamity and tragedy, and yet Lincoln wanted all Americans to pause and “offer thanks and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens!” It’s amazing to think he declared a day of thanksgiving in the midst of civil war! Why? Maybe because he understood the central importance of always maintaining an attitude of gratitude.

Living with an attitude of gratitude. How different our entire life would be if we could cultivate this spirit within our lives.

Let me leave you with a practical suggestion on how we can begin cultivating this spirit of gratitude at the start of each day.  When you wake up every morning, BEFORE getting out of bed, simply make your cross and then think of 10 reasons for which you can thank God. Each day, try to think of 10 different reasons. They can be big and small. Simply acknowledge at the start of each day all that you have, and express gratitude!

May the spirit of this thanksgiving weekend not end today, but continue each and every day. Glory to God for all things!!!