On Thanksgiving

by Fr. Charles Irvin

November, 1997

Given at an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service for the Village of Manchester, Michigan

 


Jesus gave us the Beatitudes as guideposts for happiness, happiness being not something that we get but rather something that results from the way we live. We are not able to buy, earn, achieve or otherwise acquire happiness. It simply comes to us as gift, the result of how we live. One is happy because of a series of other things that are a part of one’s life. One harvests happiness as a result of what one has planted in the ground of one’s life.

I once heard the expression: The Be-Attitude is gratitude. Perhaps on the eve of Thanksgiving we might take a bit of a closer look at what that phrase might mean for us.

The first thing I’d like to put to your consideration this evening is (just as we’ve said for Christmas) Thanksgiving is a way of life, not just one day in the year. From the perspective of the attitude in which we should be in, the attitude in which we should be living during our daily lives should be gratitude. If we locate our existence in gratitude, we will live in beatitude. Happiness will result.

Many of us know that gratitude and resentment cannot exist in the same soul at the same time. One cannot be wallowing in grudges, resentments and anger and, at the same time, have a heart filled with gratitude. How is it possible to cling to a grudge while one is in a state of gratitude? How can we be angry and be in a state of gratitude at the same time? Happiness will come to us when we shove aside resentments with gratitude. In this instance the wheat of gratitude will choke out the weeds of resentment, anger, grudges, etc.

So try that out the next time you’re sinking deep down into the quicksand of anger, hurt and resentment. Right then and there focus on some things for which you are grateful, or for which you should be grateful. You’ll be amazed at what happens; you’ll be surprised at what happens to all of those resentments that are overburdening your heart. Happiness will return to you.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,” the Psalmist sings in Psalm 92, “and to make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning, and your faithfulness at night . . . For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts. The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand . . . “

This passage from sacred scripture, along with countless others, continually urges us to find God’s peace in our souls by living in the beatitude of gratitude.

Peace is what God wants for you. “Peace I leave you,” Jesus repeatedly said, “my peace I give to you.” Why is it we think that God wants us to live in turmoil? Why do we constantly tell ourselves that whenever we suffer pain and loss it is “the will of God?” Nothing could be further from the truth! God did not will that we be created in order to please Him by suffering! It is not the will of God what we should suffer. So when suffering comes, why do we try to comfort each other by saying that it is the will of God? When asked about the origin of pain and suffering Jesus’ response was: “An enemy hath done this.”

It is, however, the prerogative of God to bring good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos and life out of death. God is forever about the task of turning the work of the Evil One over upon itself, forever redeeming, buying back and recovering that which seemed lost to the kingdom of darkness.

St. Paul thoroughly understood that. St. Paul made an art out of converting suffering and loss into things that he gratefully received in order to join his life into the life of Jesus Christ. Which is why he wrote one of the most mysterious passages found in all of sacred scripture. In writing to the Colossians he begins, in the first chapter to the Epistle to the Colossians, by acknowledging that God “has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom . . . “

Paul then writes these mysterious words in the 24th verse of the first chapter of Colossians: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” Straight away we must recognize that Jack Kevorkian and Geoffrey Fieger would consider that thought to be masochistic, psychologically warped, and nuts. But, then, the early Christians in Rome had to endure pagan graffiti on the walls of their houses in which the pagan Romans depicted Christ as a jackass crucified on the cross.

All of which begs us to ask: Where in this world filled with suffering can we find happiness?

Christians find it in living the beatitudes, in living out the teachings that express the vision and spirit of Jesus Christ. Christians find it by seeing their lives lived in the life of Christ and by finding the life of Christ lived in their own lives. Christians find that life in living out the Eucharist, Christ’s gift to us as precisely as He entered into His suffering and death.

Here we should once again recognize that the Greek word “eucharist” translates to mean “thanksgiving.”

Jesus’ life was nothing BUT thanksgiving. Jesus life was nothing other than turning over into the care of His Father all that happened in his life, all that he was about, and all those who joined themselves into living his eucharistic life. It is in Christ’s life that our lives are hidden. It is in Christ’s life that our Heavenly Father sees ours. As the psalmist sings:

“Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know if I am standing or sitting, you read my thoughts from far away, whether I walk or lie down, you are watching, You know every detail of my conduct.

The word is not even on my tongue, Yahweh, before you know all about it; close behind and close in front you fence me round, shielding me with your hand. Such knowledge is beyond my understanding, a height to which my mind cannot attain.

Where could I go to escape you spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I climb the heaven, you are there, there too, if I lie in Sheol.

If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea, your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me.

If I asked darkness to cover me, and light to become night around me, that darkness would not be dark to you, night would be a light of day.

It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb; for all these mysteries I thank you: for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.”

Truly, it is good to give thanks to the Lord. Truly we discover who we really and see what our lives are all about in living eucharistic lives in thanksgiving to God for having called us to belong to Him by sharing, and sharing fully, the life of His Christ poured out for us. For if we do that, walking in the footsteps of the leperous man who returned to give thanks to God, then we shall hear Christ tell us, as He told the thankful man “Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”

May He be praised forever. Amen.

 


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”