Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"A profound spirit of thanksgiving"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Nov. 13, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

All of us look forward to the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Families gather, sometimes coming from afar. Thanksgiving dinner is always special. And for some, of course, football.

Parishes usually have a Mass on Thanksgiving morning, and attendance is normally good. We do use the occasion as an expression of gratitude, but I wonder sometimes if that thanks becomes a bit perfunctory and superficial.

That’s a question I must ask myself in my ministry as bishop. I have been so blessed. But it can be too easy to take blessings for granted, to lack appreciation for what God has given. I would suggest there is good reason for all of us to look into our hearts and sharpen our appreciation of the need for gratitude in our lives.

This is the year of St. Paul. Paul’s rich writings provide the foundation of so much of our Church teaching. One aspect of his letters is his constant call for a spirit of gratitude. “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness” (Col 3:15); “Give thanks to God the Father always and for everything” (Ephes 5:20). We should keep in mind the Gospel story of Jesus curing the 10 lepers. Only one of the 10 returned to the Lord to give thanks. Jesus uses this moment to make an important point for all of us.

Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity for all of us to enter into a deeper spirit of gratitude in our daily living.. One day a year as a national holiday is great, but every day of the year is much greater, which can develop into a real holiness of life. I would offer four areas for our reflection as we come to this Thanksgiving Day 2008.

First and foremost, we must thank our God. God has blessed each of us with life and faith. Faith is something none of us have earned. Truly, it is a gift from God. It should be a gift that we really treasure and hold precious in our hearts. Faith in God and in Divine Providence gives us a sense of orientation in life that we can never find in any other way. Part of our faith life in our Catholic tradition revolves around the sacraments and our celebration of the sacraments.

Eucharist is the summit and source of our spiritual life. Do we live that reality? Does God receive our thanks at Sunday Eucharist? At the Last Supper, Jesus tells us to do this in memory of him. Profoundly grateful people remember this and value of Eucharist in their lives. As we gather around the table of the Lord on Sunday, the love of Jesus invites us individually and in community to give thanks. The basic root word of Eucharist means to give thanks.

Second, as profoundly grateful people, we remember those with whom we live, work, and meet. Gratitude to spouse, to parents, to children, to public servants at every level of our society, to parish, to Church: it’s a rich opportunity. Gratitude never depends on the perfection of the other. Sometimes it is easy to place that kind of limitation – before we’re grateful, they have to measure up somehow to our expectations. But as St. Paul tells us, “Give thanks always…. and for everything.”

We live in a beautiful world. The sunset, the gold colored tamaracks this time of the year, the fall colors speak of the beauty of our created world. Here in the Northwest we are especially blessed with creation’s beauty and diversity. One of my favorite websites displays each day a different galaxy in the universe. The immensity in number and space leaves the mind in mystery as it tries to comprehend these magnificent spectacles. A wonderful and gracious God has set all of this in motion through creation. The dynamic reality of our universe and world should lead us to profound gratitude to our Creator. My hope is that that attitude will lead us to a deeper mystical spirit, seeing everything with the eyes of faith.

Finally, I would suggest that we have been richly blessed with resources that give us a remarkable standard of living. Yes, we are living through an economic crisis, but we know what it is like to walk down a supermarket aisle. Yes, we are concerned about this or that, but our nation’s rich abundance, especially when compared to so much of the world, calls us to be generous in gratitude. All of us watch our checkbooks closely. Do the notations manifest a spirit of gratitude and generosity? I may not receive a high salary as a bishop, but I had better be very generous, in gratitude for the resources given to me. My blessings are too many for me to give the excuse that I don’t have a fat bank account.

Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful national holiday. But in addition, I would to like to suggest that this is a great opportunity to look into our hearts and really take the measure of our sense of gratitude in life. Yes, gratitude to the Lord, and to one another, for a magnificent world and universe, for material blessings.

A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to all!

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