Giving Thanks…

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Column by Father Jonathan Dickson

This year’s Thanksgiving holiday will be unlike any others before. Concerns about Coronavirus are, again, at a fever pitch. And, people are responding in different ways. Many will throw caution to the wind and insist that they meet with their families as they always have. Others are calculating the cost of meeting with loved ones especially those who are elderly or ill. Sadly enough, many will find themselves alone this Thanksgiving because for them the risk is entirely too high. Regardless of your Thanksgiving plans, please remember the name of the holiday. We gather to give thanks. Giving thanks is essential to who we are as humans.            

In my November article from last year I recalled Luke 17:11-19. This is the story when 10 lepers are healed by Jesus and only one returns to give thanks. How could only one return? Or to consider the story in light of our own time, why is it so rare that we stop to give thanks? May I suggest that the answer is quite simple. We are preoccupied. As time goes on we become more and more preoccupied. When it seemed life could not get any crazier, COVID-19 hit, and then seemingly overnight our country became divided. Everything that seemed certain was no longer so, and we are struggling to find meaning now more than ever. But, let’s be honest, even before this pandemic hit, our lives were crazy. Could we live more chaotic times? Our schedules are filled from sunup to sundown. Then we attempt to manage these same schedules during the pandemic, and all the while we feel as if we are drowning. We are Peter sinking as he attempts to walk on water and he suddenly realizes the power of the storm. Now preoccupied with everything around him, he takes his eyes off of Christ and he starts to sink. How often do our preoccupations keep us from our relationship with Christ? Or maybe the better question is, when was the last time you faced our own preoccupations, set them aside and focused on God?

Now you are saying, “I thought this was supposed to be about giving thanks.” It is! But, we don’t simply give thanks because it is the right thing to do. We give thanks because it reorients us back toward our creator. This Thanksgiving we might have to dig a little deeper, and it may even be a struggle, but we must give thanks. Hopefully we all have something to give thanks for, but if not, can we at least give thanks for our own lives. This in my opinion is what the leper did. He realized the source of his “new life” and returned to the source. We don’t give thanks because God needs it; God doesn’t need anything. We give thanks because when we do, he returns grace. Thanksgiving grounds our entire existence and it professes that God is still in control. It gives us hope and it dispels fear. So, I urge you; spend a few minutes in prayer this Thanksgiving holiday, return to God and show appreciation for all you have. If it is difficult for you to find anything to be thankful for, then as I said before, at least thank God for the gift of your own life.   

In the Church we celebrate the Eucharist which means thanksgiving. God takes all of our prayers of thanks and returns them to us 30, 60, 100-fold. Whatever your means of prayer is, it should always be rooted in Thanksgiving. We thank God for his infinite love and then we absorb that love. Now, fully alive in His love, we walk the life of the beloved. Our prayer of thanksgiving sends us back out into the world full of a hope that cannot be dimmed and a faith that cannot be taken away. It dispels fear and it gives us the courage to keep going. So, please, during this Thanksgiving holiday, do just this, give thanks! You may just find it to be life-changing.

Father Jonathan Dickson is the Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College, Chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg, and Diocesan Director of Ongoing Formation for the Clergy.