By Mike Jordan Laskey
In the Gospel passage suggested for Mass on Thanksgiving Day, 10 lepers call out to Jesus for healing. Jesus sends them to show themselves to religious leaders of the time, and as they walk off, they are cleansed. Just one of the 10 turns around right away, finds Christ, throws himself at the Savior’s feet, and says thank you.
Jesus is a bit perturbed that only one came back to give thanks to God, but he gives a message of salvation to the grateful man: “Stand up and go,” Jesus says. “Your faith has saved you.”
There are two elements of this story that stand out to me: the moment of gratitude followed by Christ’s words of empowerment.
First, gratitude. This Gospel reading is perfect for the day in which our country pauses to give thanks for all our blessings. For us Catholics, thanksgiving is something we do more than one day a year — the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” after all, and each time we gather around the altar is a new opportunity to thank God for the gift of his self-giving love. The medieval philosopher Meister Eckhart noticed the importance of gratitude within the Christian spiritual life. “If the only prayer you ever said was ‘thank you,’” he wrote, “that would be enough.”
But it’s so easy to forget to be grateful, just like the nine former lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. I’m like them more often than I care to admit.
Cultivating a grateful disposition takes work, but it can change the way we see things. When I catch myself wishing I had a nicer car or bigger house, for example, I Google search for an image of a poster that circulated around the Internet a few years ago. It reads, in part, “If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.” In the words of evangelical minister Rob Bell, practicing gratitude can remind me that my world is not the world.
The second thing that strikes me about the Thanksgiving Gospel reading is its moment of empowerment. Jesus tells the thankful healed leper to get up and go, echoing the last words we hear at each Eucharistic thanksgiving feast: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” Gratitude that doesn’t lead to action is inauthentic. We are empowered to bring Christ’s love to the world.
One neat development over the past few years has been the rise of “Giving Tuesday,” a day the week after Thanksgiving that embodies the movement from gratitude to action. The diocese has set up a Giving Tuesday website where you can support various ministries in our area that serve those who are poor and vulnerable and help to build up the Church in South Jersey.
So if you’re near a computer this Tuesday (or any time before), consider logging on to http://bit.ly/camdengivingtuesday (all lowercase), where you can financially support one or more of five different diocesan ministries:
- House of Charity: Our Bishop’s Annual Appeal ensures the vitality of essential diocesan ministries and programs that sustain the healing, teaching and redemptive Presence of Jesus Christ through the Diocese of Camden.
- Catholic Charities: Serving more than 40,000 individuals across the six counties of the diocese who are poor and vulnerable.
- South Jersey Scholarship Fund: Making quality Catholic education affordable for low-income families.
- FaithFULL Food Drive: Support the diocese-wide food drive, set for March 1, 2015.
- iRace for Vocations: Helping to form the future of our church.
No matter how God might be calling you to put gratitude into action this Advent season, we pray that a spirit of giving might grow here in the diocese and beyond.
Mike Jordan Laskey is director, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden.