Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Giving and appreciating thanks"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Nov. 11, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

November is a month filled with celebrations. We begin with the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. We remember all of those very holy people who have gone before us as we celebrate their lives. The tradition of the Feast of All Saints assists us in keeping those memories alive; as the opening prayer at Eucharist reminds us, “We rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place.”

The Feast of All Souls gives us the opportunity to remember those who have gone before us in death, especially members of our families and our close friends. We pray for the repose of their souls, and we remind ourselves that we on our earthly journey – we, too, are coming closer to that day of great transition in our lives. The gift of the kingdom yet to come awaits us, and we rejoice in that incredibly generous gift from God.

Toward the end of November we conclude our liturgical year. Advent begins as we prepare for the birth of the Savior. Again and again, the liturgical cycle brings before us the great mysteries of our faith as we celebrate and continue to process our lives. Each year as we begin Advent, there is something refreshing mixed with hopeful expectation – always, year after year, time after time. The season of lights, mixed with the wonderful passages from Sacred Scripture that we hear as we celebrate the Sundays of Advent: It’s the beginning of a special journey of anticipation. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the mystery of how God touches our lives in so very many ways.

The national holiday of Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November. It’s the day when, as a nation, we give thanks. The day’s traditions include families gathered for a meal. That moment really marks a distinct, focused moment during the year when thanks is coupled with this special time of gathering around the table. So much in families happens at the family table.

We are now well into the Year of Eucharist, which began on Oct. 1. I hope in the coming months to write frequently about Eucharist because, as we are reminded by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, Eucharist is the “summit and source” of the life and mission of the Church. Literally, Eucharist means “to give thanks.” Each time we gather around the table of the Lord, this is a special time to offer gratitude to our God, who has so richly blessed us.

St. Paul speaks frequently about the need to give thanks. He uses phrases like, “I have never stopped thanking God for you” (Eph 1:16), “Give thanks to God the Father always” (Eph 5:20), “Never cease praying, rendering constant thanks” (1 Thes 5:18), and “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for all” (I Tim 2:1). And as Jesus took the cup at the Last Supper, he did so giving thanks.

As we think about thanksgiving and the place of Eucharist in our lives, we have so much for which to be profoundly grateful. We live in a country that is richly blessed in so very many ways. I have always been struck by the contrast between our supermarkets and the stores and little shops in Third World countries. We have been showered with abundance – really an over-abundance. Are we mindful of the richness of our lives? Are we mindful of all that goes into presenting us with this bounty? As we casually stroll past the meat counter, do we think of the many people who have brought the product to this place, to make possible the fine products we see on display? The farmer, the trucker, the packing house worker?

Or walk by the vegetables and fruits, in all their variety, at almost any time of the year. Not only can we be grateful for the choices, but what about those who have grown, picked and made possible these fruits and vegetables? Asparagus can be a bit pricey, but have you ever seen cutters of asparagus out in the fields at 5 a.m., stooped over, cutting each spear?

All of this brings us back to Eucharist – to giving thanks. There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t have a lot for which to be grateful. How do we go about giving thanks?

I think we do it best in community, as we come to our God in worship, praise, and openness to receiving the “Bread of Life.” “Give thanks always” doesn’t mean once or twice a year, or approaching the table of the Lord in a hit-and-miss fashion. Giving thanks means daily. It also means doing so in community, at least once a week, in Eucharist. That’s what the Church asks of us every Sunday as we celebrate the Day of the Lord. Regular Sunday attendance means we are serious about giving thanks. Anything less than that can clearly indicate a slacking off, a weakening of appreciation: appreciation for how richly God has blessed us personally, how he has blessed us with one another, and how he has blessed us with the world in which we live.

This Year of the Eucharist is an opportunity: an opportunity to be more fully aware; to be profoundly grateful; to remember, especially in Sunday Eucharist, how richly God has blessed us.

A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to all!

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