If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen a cartoon that’s been going around; in the one and only panel, a child asks “Mommie, what is a Canadian?” His mother responds, “It’s an unarmed North American with health insurance, sweetie.” Of the mother’s answer, two things ring true: Canadians are North American and they have health insurance, kinda, but whoever wrote the cartoon has obviously never been to Canada, as most, most Canadians are armed to the teeth. They are not in the habit of shooting each other, as they would have to say they were sorry, but armed they most certainly are.
Tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving. Since my wife has dual citizenship, I’ll probably take her out for French toast with maple syrup, or whatever Canadians do on Thanksgiving. I’ve got Thanksgiving on my mind, really, because on top of our big Canadian feast, plans for American Thanksgiving have gotten rolling: we’re hosting the Bordentown Community Thanksgiving Service this year, we’re teaming up with the Kiwanis again to feed the hungry in Bordentown and Howell, and I was just encouraged to do another Fill Fr. Matt’s Truck for Thanksgiving event.
And then came along this week’s Gospel lesson, which is all about thanksgiving, but with the small t.
“The stories of miraculous healings of skin disease in…Luke end with a newly-healed person responding to their experience of God’s grace with deep and loud praise. Their lives were changed, and while the site of their physical healing was the skin, the change went as deep as their bones, or their souls, for they came to know just that deeply that God is sovereign over all humanity, and that the deepest nature of God is love.
“These readings also deal honestly with the shortcomings of human nature….Of the ten lepers Jesus heals, only one has the presence of mind, and the openness of heart, and the generosity of spirit, to return to Jesus, and thank him, and praise God with all his might. (This episode) rings true. We resist grace so easily when it comes in unexpected forms, and we often need help in order to overcome our rigid ideas about how God ought to behave. And even though God blesses us frequently and abundantly, it feels like giving thanks for one blessing in every ten would be an improvement over our current habits.”1
And that’s a problem. If God loves a cheerful giver, as Paul tells us, then it makes you wonder what God might think about an ungrateful receiver. “Ingratitude little by little kills those who never receive the gratitude they deserve in life. But anything that kills others is not exactly healthy for the person who fails to say “Thanks” either. Failing to express gratitude sooner or later coarsens us even as it fosters an undue sense of entitlement. (If we live like this), After a time, we don’t deign to say “Thank you” to various workers in our lives because we feel we deserve the service they’ve rendered. We’ve earned it.”
What a terrible way to live. And yet I catch myself on the edge of that all the time. It’s getting annoyed at the line for tickets at the movie theater and not giving the poor seventeen-year-old ticket girl a smile, despite her being trapped in a cell of plexiglass. It’s not waving hello to the cop or being cheap with the tip or being cross with the mayor. It’s praying for things but not first saying thank you to God for all the things He has already given us. It’s a terrible way to live.
But we’re not beyond redemption. Darrell Vigh pointed out to me that just in this Mass alone, we will express gratitude toward God fourteen times. Point being, gratitude is built in to the Christian life, a life that all of us have to wriggle into at times, but a life that only makes sense when we practice it with gratitude. For us, for Christians, we have a God who is not always just available but always trying to be with us, to give us every blessing, to give us His life and peace, and so every day is Thanksgiving.