Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Homily

It wasn't great but it wasn't awful either....

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

This year, Pope Benedict asked us to focus on St. Paul in our prayer and studies. As I reflected on these Thanksgiving Day mass’ readings, it seemed most appropriate to do so. After all, St. Paul is, by far, the most prolific New Testament writer to use the word “thanks” in one form or another. He uses it a total of 42 out of the 67 times it appears in the New Testament, which works out to being about 63% of the time it is used. Paul uses it in every one of his works except Galatians, where he is far too angry to use it, and Titus, which seems more like a grocery list Paul left for Titus one day than a letter he intended to be kept for posterity.

The letter we heard during the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, contained 11 uses of this word, although, to be honest, Paul is actually using three different words when he does so. But, all can legitimately be translated thanks in english. First Corinthians is rather unique in the 11 times St. Paul uses thanks. Romans uses the term 7 times, followed by 2 Corinthians and Colossians, both of which use the term 5 times. So, it seems to make sense that if we want to understand what Paul means by thanks in order to help inform us at this celebration, we chose the right book to do so.

In our second reading, we heard Paul do one of his traditional “thanksgiving” sections which he uses to introduce a letter. We hear them so often that we may become kind of numb to what he is really saying. He begins, not with “Dear Fr. Dennis. How’s it going? I am fine…” the traditional beginning to our letters. He starts by introducing himself and saying who he is writing to. Next he gives a greeting similar to what we use at mass, “Grace and peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ….” When that is done, Paul begins to introduce his subject matter in the Thanksgiving part. In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives thanks that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. It seems that, despite the presence of incredible spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues, the people in Corinth had forgotten that everything that they have is a gift from God. Corinth had allowed their lives to be ruled by sexual excesses, by sports, and by religious pluralism. On a day that has become synonymous with excess food, sports, and areligiosity, this message should hit home with us pretty hard. Paul is going to confront this over and over again in this letter by reminding his listeners of their need to give thanks for the spiritual gifts they have received. Since we don’t speak Greek, we kind of lose what Paul is saying. The words “give thanks” and “spiritual gift” are related “eucharista” and “charis”, the one word is the heart of the other. Paul emphasizes this idea of a gift needing to be thanked over and over again in his message. He connects it to service of neighbor, to speaking in tongues, and to the Eucharist. He seeks to cultivate a thankful heart in the community he is forming in this church because God gives spiritual gifts to those who give thanks to him.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, it is a good day to take stock of all the many gifts we have received, as so many have as a part of their tradition. And, as we do, let us give thanks to the Lord, our God for it is right to give him thanks and praise.