“What do you say?” Every parent has probably said that phrase at least a hundred times to their child, a reminder for the child to say thank you. As I child, my parents were insistent I write thank you notes to relatives and friends for gifts received. While I disliked what seemed like another chore before I could play with the new toy, there was a great lesson I learned about cultivating an attitude of thanks for the generosity of others.
During the month of November, with the national celebration of Thanksgiving, gratitude is brought to the forefront of our minds. Giving thanks, however, ought to be a daily occurrence, particularly to God.
It Is Right and Just to Give Thanks
At every Mass, during the Preface, a profound dialogue occurs between the congregants and the priest. The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the congregation replies, “It is right and just.” The priest then continues: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.”
Giving thanks to God continually is found repeatedly in Scripture. We read in Psalm 92: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your love at daybreak, your faithfulness in the night.” (Psalm 92:2-3) Likewise, in the first book of Thessalonians, we find St. Paul’s exhortation: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Indeed, St. Paul’s epistles regularly begin and end with an expression of thanksgiving to God.
Thanksgiving is right and fittingly given to God. Ultimately, nothing we have or experienced is earned or merited; it all comes from God. It can be easy in our society to take what we have for granted: a warm, sunny day; the food we eat; the people we love. We fail to see the wonder in these because they seem so ordinary. Yet offering thanks and praise to God reminds us God is the primary mover.
Thanksgiving Integral to Salvation
Let us look at the Preface prayer again: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.” Not only is it fitting to give thanks to God, but it is essential to our salvation to do so. Why this importance on giving thanks?
The answer to this question can be found in the story of the healing of the ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19). Jesus meets ten lepers as he was entering a village. These ten people would have been cut off from society, required to stay away from family and friends. In response to the lepers’ cry for mercy, Jesus sends them to the priests and along the way, the discovered they were healed. Only one, however, returns to Jesus to offer thanks and praise. Jesus observes while ten were cleansed, only one returned. He does this not because he has need of their praise or because he cured them for a selfish reason; rather, he wished to offer the ten an even greater gift than merely physical healing. He tells the one returning, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Jesus desired the lepers return to him to give thanks not because he had need of their thanks but because he desired to give them an even greater gift: the gift of faith. “Your faith has saved you.” Faith is the source of our salvation; giving thanks cultivates the gift of faith. It is the gift of faith so necessary for salvation which we receive in offering our thanks to God. Giving thanks to God reorients our life.
The example of the one leper who returned to Jesus to give him praise shows the fundamental steps in giving thanks. First, he recognized the action of God in his life. He understood it was Jesus who had caused this dramatic healing in his life. The source of life and love is neither contained within ourselves nor is it ultimately something we create. As St. Paul writes, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Second, he stopped the wise and practical act of having the priests verify his cure, and he turned back to God. It is easy in everyday life to be caught up in the next items on our “to-do” list or be so focused on meeting the next deadline. It is good to make good use of our time and perform the work before us efficiently and effectively. We must not become so engrossed in the “doing” of things we lose the opportunity to turn to God in prayer to offer thanks. It was this action which distinguished the one leper and allowed him to receive the gift of faith. It is this willingness to put aside our necessary activities which helps keep God at the center of our lives for, as the Catechism puts it, “faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God” which “involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words.” (CCC 1760)
The Highest Form of Thanksgiving
It is fitting the early Christians, in following Christ’s command to “do this in memory of me,” called their action the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eukharistos, meaning thanksgiving. The Eucharist orients our dispositions to God in a very particular way by allowing us to join in an intimate communion with God and the Church. Through the Eucharist, all God has created is presented to the Father through the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. It is an act of praise and thanksgiving for all that is good, beautiful, and true. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritas, n. 92, the Eucharist teaches us each day “that every ecclesial event is a kind of sign by which God makes himself known and challenges us. The eucharistic form of life can thus help foster a real change in the way we approach history and the world.”
May our reception of the Eucharist cultivate in us a spirit of gratitude that we may more fully see God at work in our lives.