Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here, I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me” (John 11: 41-2).
This week, our nation once again will observe the secular celebration of Thanksgiving along with its subsequent start to the Christmas season with sales beginning at midnight (or sooner). Both Thanksgiving and Christmas have largely become commercialized in the past decades and lost much of their original meaning, unfortunately, in people’s lives.
However, as Catholics, our thanksgiving is never something confined to one day primarily. Instead, we have the greatest, most profound Thanksgiving that no money could purchase or no football team could ever win. Our Thanksgiving is the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The greatest event in history: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (celebrated as one Passover event, or Paschal Mystery) continues throughout time and has been left as a perpetual memorial by God of His one sacrifice offered on Calvary two thousand years ago.
The Church, in celebrating the Mass through the hands of her priests, offers thanksgiving, along with petition, adoration, and reparation to God at every altar. Indeed, thanksgiving is one of the four ends of every Mass. In fact, “thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for His glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body [the Church] participates in that of their Head [Jesus]” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2637).
The Church’s word for our celebration, the Holy Eucharist, itself is from the Greek, eucharistia, meaning “thanksgiving.” Our lives should echo St. Paul’s admonition: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18 and Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2638). The only reason that we have salvation and eternal life offered to us is directly because of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for us out of His own free will. As the abovementioned quote from St. John illustrates, Jesus’ entire life was lived in thanksgiving to God His Father. So it ought to with us. None of us has received anything that has not been given to us either through God’s permissive or ordaining will. None of the seven sacraments where we receive the life of Christ in our own would have any efficacy if it were not for Jesus’ gracious desire to suffer, die, and rise for us. He never did anything for Himself. All that He was and is happens to be for our benefit. That benefit is to live in union with the Father, Jesus Himself, and the Holy Spirit in this life and then in the glory of heaven.
The Church in offering her thanksgiving to the Father simply mirrors what Jesus has lived, therefore. His supreme thanksgiving to the Father was manifest to the world while He was on the Cross. Why was Jesus thanking God the Father in such a situation? To us, it seems counterintuitive. Most people, when faced with trauma and disaster in their lives will quickly resort to blaming God in a misguided attempt to hold Him accountable. Instead, Jesus does exactly the opposite. The lessons of our faith are found so often, in fact, in the paradox of what we think we see versus what God is actually accomplishing beyond our limited vision.
In a word, Jesus was thanking God for deliverance. Psalm 22, in which we hear Jesus praying from the Cross, begins with the famous, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” However, this psalm is not actually about abandonment. It is about a man who has lost everything and who people think that God has visited punishment upon because he has nothing left. However, the psalm is actually about the man who has, indeed, lost everything because of the actions of the wicked, but who, nonetheless, has faith that God will deliver him despite what it may look like at the moment. The psalm concludes with an assurance that God does not abandon His faithful. This psalm then leads perfectly into Psalm 23 where the Lord is our Shepherd who will bring us to verdant fields and provide for our needs.
Jesus wanted the by-standers at the Cross to know that He was praying Psalm 22 for a particular purpose. He fulfilled, as He fulfilled all 150 psalms, this psalm perfectly as He was suffering and dying. He was thanking His Father that He would not abandon His Son to death. He was thanking the Father that His suffering was going to bring the redemption of all creation, but in particular, to fallen man who had turned so quickly against God, his greatest Good and Truth. Jesus, as He was suspended from the Cross, is the everlasting bridge between the Father and us. The Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son and all its attendant suffering and misery and took that as a full atonement for our wandering away from Him. Therefore, as the Letter to the Hebrews states, only Jesus is able to plead perfectly on our behalf before the Father as our Advocate to bring us to full communion within His family of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, this sacrifice is so compelling that we have another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, deposited within us to seal our adoption as God’s very own sons and daughters. We also know that we have our own spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as our most compelling human advocate before her Son and who always points to His Sacrifice of thanksgiving on the Cross as our way, our truth, and our life; she can advocate for us like no other saint because of her unique relationship with God her Son and because she stood underneath the wood of the Cross at Calvary. The entire company of saints and angels advocate similarly on our behalf, also.
Just as in our human relationships, our attitude of thanksgiving, or lack thereof, in our spiritual relationship with God manifests the character of a person. For example, a person who is never thankful to others and never shows that he is thankful is not a person of virtue. Very often, this type of attitude shows a narcissistic belief that a person is entitled to everything that he has, so he has no need to be thankful. Consequently, such persons are very often filled with envy and jealousy because no one can have everything that we think we need! A gracious and thankful person, in contrast, is someone that other people naturally gravitate toward because they have an internal proper orientation. Such persons are positive and giving in their relationships. People want to give and receive not only material things from such persons, but also the intangible, lasting gifts that contribute to character and form who we are as persons long after all the tangible gifts are gone. This is one of the reasons why Jesus Christ is still so attractive to people today. No one has physically met Him as we meet our friends and family today, but there is still something perennially attractive about following Him two thousand years later. In effect, He still invites every one of us to “come and see” Him (John 1:39). It is both a great mystery and a truth that the words of St. Peter are still relevant as they apply to us: “Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8).
May we each have a blessed Thanksgiving on Thursday and even more importantly, may we continue that thanksgiving to God each day—especially each Sunday—all throughout the year for all that God has done and continues to do for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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