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The “Gift within the Gift”

Monseñor Francis Cilia

Giving thanks has been called “the gift within the gift.” In the Gospel account of the healing of the lepers (Luke 7:11-19), although all ten were healed, only one returned to thank the Lord. He alone seemed to be the recipient of that second gift, the ability to give thanks. Whenever we give thanks, we share doubly.

We need this gift today, more than ever.

When I was approached about the possibility of writing this piece for the Thanksgiving issue of The Valley Catholic, the invitation was couched in terms of making a case for Thanksgiving Day in light of the dire condition of our world today. Anyone who has lived more than two or three decades knows that prophets of doom habitually claim that we are living in the “end times,” that the evils of this age far surpass those of any other, that we are a people adrift, floating aimlessly on the sea of time and space. These so-called prophets have done so since biblical times and they continue even now.

We can focus upon the evils of our day, for they are indeed many: war, terrorism, gun violence, disregard for the dignity of human life, poverty and homelessness, mass migrations of refugees and other peoples, and a lack of care for our world and its environment, just to name a few. To paraphrase the words of the Lord, “Do not worry about tomorrow… Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

To focus, however, solely upon what afflicts humanity is to lose sight of the inherent goodness and the gifts of God that are present in creation and, more pointedly, in the life of each person.

Realizing that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God wrecks the trajectory of the prophets of doom.

Recognizing that none of us is self-made, that life is God’s gift, that eternal life for which we hope is rooted in God’s compassionate love, we begin to understand our dependence upon the Lord who owes us absolutely nothing. This dependence is not a weakness, but a mark of our humanity; our ability and willingness to stand before the Lord in the act of thanksgiving makes us truly human. Giving thanks is giving of ourselves.

Giving thanks, as “the gift within the gift,” enables us to be stewards of every gift that we have received. Stewardship, corresponsabilidad in Spanish, is truly a sharing of responsibility for creation with God, who entrusted the gifts of creation to humanity, as narrated in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. Indeed, every gift, every blessing that we have received is on its way, through us to another person. And we are moved to pray: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes” (Dag Hammarskjold, second Secretary General of the United Nations).

On Thanksgiving Day, we join the people of this land in giving thanks, an act that we do often, since we Catholics are a Eucharistic people. As we gather around the tables of God’s Word and the Eucharist, we enter our great act of thanksgiving for the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. We join our prayers of thanks to His own and, nourished by both Word and Sacrament, we find new strength to live out our baptismal call and to become more and more the pilgrim people of God. Doing so on Thanksgiving Day is part of the rhythm of our lives, and our prayer of thanks should come easily to us.

The medieval German Dominican theologian, Meister Eckhart taught that “if our only prayer is one of thanks, it would be enough, and if the only words we ever spoke were of thanks, that, also, would be enough.”

None of what I have written changes the grim realities that face us, our families, our Church and our world. But if we allow ourselves truly to be thankful, we can change, and if we few change, who is to say what God might do, through us, to heal our weary world.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your families and your loved ones.

Monsignor Francis Cilia is Vicar General for the Diocese of San Jose.