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Giving Thanks

During this month of November our thoughts and minds often turn to the topic of thanksgiving.  The holiday itself fills much of our thoughts at this time, but unfortunately within our wider culture, the true meaning of this holiday does seem to be slipping away from us.  I have noticed on television that, although there are certainly black Friday sales to be had, there is very little mention of the Thanksgiving holiday they follow; and of course these sales only support the most secular aspects of the Christmas season as well, the gift giving.

Maybe the problem is that our culture does not encourage people to consider their dependence on others and especially on God.  We are people who have been taught from a very young age to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” and we prize one who is a “self-made man or woman.”  But if we really give a bit of thought to all of this we will certainly have to recognize that many others have a significant effect on our lives.  It certainly may not be the same individuals for each one of us, but that part does not matter.  We know there is certainly someone, be it parents, teachers, friends, mentors or many others, who influenced and supported us.

The time of thanksgiving reminds us that we need to be grateful for those who have brought us to the place that we are today.  There still might be many things that are not as they should be with our lives, but certainly there are good things that have come through the presence of others.  This should also spur us on to try and accomplish the same for others that we might know or meet.  Certainly there are those within our lives or within our circles who might need some help or especially encouragement.  It is often those small aspects of encouragement and letting someone know that they are thought of and cared for that can make a great difference.

And of course if we have this sense of gratitude and thankfulness for the people who are around us, then certainly it must be to an even greater degree for the presence of Almighty God Who is constantly within our lives.  It is during times like these that I am drawn to the writing of St. Paul on giving thanks, in his letter to the Colossians.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)

It is good for us to examine this portion of Scripture as it reminds us of the true essence of thankfulness, because oftentimes we only consider it on the most superficial level.  When someone might ask us if we are thankful, we would most probably say ‘yes’, but this thankfulness does not go very deeply.  We might only be thankful thinking that most good things are a happy accident as it turned out fortunate for us or someone we love.

But again, true thankfulness goes much deeper.  It goes to the level of relationship.  St. Paul reminds us of the attitude that we must have which leads to a life of thankfulness, “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  These aspects of our daily life must be nurtured in order to live and spend our lives with others.  Notice also that each of these virtues is directed towards another.  We must have compassion for another person, show kindness to another person, be humble in regards to our dealing with others, be gentle to others and show patience with others.  Then St. Paul goes a step further, “bear with one another” and “forgive one another.”  Unfortunately we often think of the word  ‘bear’ here to mean only ‘put up with’, but again it goes beyond that.  ‘Bear’ means to ‘carry and support’ showing that we must live our common life more deeply.  And an important part of that common life is also forgiveness.  St. Paul then goes even one step further, reminding us to ‘put on love’ and have the ‘peace of Christ’.  We must also remind ourselves here that the love that is spoken of is the all self-sacrificing love that Christ showed to us in His coming to earth and His sacrificial death.

It is then with this attitude that St. Paul finally tells us in quite plain words, “And be thankful.”  True thankfulness flows from the relationship that we have with Almighty God in our nurturing of the virtues spoken of above.  It is then because of this relationship with Almighty God and our Lord, Jesus Christ, we can then seek to have deeper relationships with others.

St. Paul also tells us that this thankfulness should and will then penetrate every aspect of our lives.  It is not something that we only take out for a special holiday set apart for thanksgiving.  We are called to “teach and admonish one another,” and to do this, not for one day only, but for a lifetime.  And we do this, not as one superior to others in the faith, but rather as one who desires to create an atmosphere where virtues are lived and supported.  We are called to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God.  Now certainly we do this when we gather for worship within the Church, but again this goes further.  This speaks to an attitude of heart as we go about our everyday life, in fact we know the expression “a song in my heart,” to mean an interior joy in someone that shows through in their daily life.

And then lastly we hear the words that most strongly speak to thanksgiving.  “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”   We should be motivated in our thoughts, words and actions by our relationship to Jesus Christ and therefore we think and act in His name.  We think and act in a way which gives glory, honor and thanks to Almighty God, Who created and sustains us.  And because of this relationship to God, we also show thankfulness in helping and encouraging others.

As we approach this national holiday of Thanksgiving, let all of these things be foremost within our hearts and minds.  Let’s give thanks to God for the many blessings we have received.  Let’s give thanks to those motivated by love and faith to be a part of our Christian life and Christian formation.  But let us also know that this thanks should not only last for a day, but rather be a way of life.  Become people of “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” and as St. Paul says, “And be thankful.”


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