“You’re not going back to school unless you eat,” my grandmother threatened.
Mom held out until she knew she’d be late, and finally downed the pudding, hating every mouthful. Pleased with this, grandma told her to say grace after meals and get back to school.
After a brief pause, Mom prayed “Almighty God, we give you thanks that the custard didn’t make me sick. Amen.”
That’s a reminder on Thanksgiving weekend that gratitude comes in many forms.
I heard about another grandmother who was so thankful her four grandchildren were coming to stay with her for a week that she put a hundred dollars in the collection on the Sunday before they arrived.
At Mass the next Sunday, after they’d gone home, she put in two hundred.
As I said, there are many different kinds of gratitude.
For some things, our gratitude is immense, for others it may even be lukewarm. We have big blessings and small ones, blessings that are pleasant and even some that are painful. And we have blessings that we realize, and others we don’t even know.
It’s too bad that “count your blessings” has become something of a throwaway line. When the famous composer Irving Berlin was having trouble sleeping, his doctor told him to try counting his blessings. Berlin turned that into the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” for the movie White Christmas. But counting your blessings is a serious business, not a cure for insomnia.
In fact, counting our blessings is a Christian duty. If we don’t know what we’re thankful for, we’re not really thankful. St. Paul tells us clearly in today’s second reading that prayer and thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. In one phrase, “Do not worry about anything, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
And in case we miss the importance of his advice, the Apostle tells us what will follow this kind of prayer: the peace of God. The peace that every heart seeks and needs.
One of the simplest of all formulas for daily prayer is called the ACTS methods. It’s so simple that I even found it in a book called Christian Prayer for Dummies! ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. The four letters capture all three of Paul’s directives, and of course adoration—giving God praise and honor for who He is—must be the start of all prayer.
But today let’s focus on thanksgiving, and not only because of the calendar.
Could we spend some time this morning thanking God for something that we might not come to mind when someone asks “what are you thankful for?”
If that question comes up at dinner tonight or tomorrow—as it should—our first answers are usually our family, our friends or even the food, because we can see these blessings as we look around the tale.
How many of us would answer “my faith”? Yet surely faith is a greater blessing even than family, friends and food.
Today’s readings really help us think seriously about this. The prophet Isaiah sings us a love song from God, whose love for us is compared to the owner of a vineyard planted and tended with exquisite care.
Jesus is obviously using the very same image in his parable. A landowner who builds a fenced-in vineyard with its own wine press and watchtower has done all he could possibly do to ensure a great harvest.
How could such loving care lead to ruin and bloodshed? Obviously human sinfulness is at the heart of it, but I suggest a lack of gratitude is the first cause of the failed harvest in the first reading and the murderous actions in the Gospel parable.
How can someone neglect or reject something for which they’re grateful?
Happily, there’s no-one in Church this morning who rejects the landowner’s Son, the Lord. But the scriptures warn us not only against rejecting God’s gift of salvation but also of neglecting it. Neglecting the Kingdom of God can be almost as bad as rejecting it.
Today, we need to put God’s gift of salvation—and the peace it promises—at the top of the list of things for which we’re thankful. But not in the half-hearted way my Mom prayed after her unhappy lunch. If we’re not sure how thankful we are for faith, today’s a day to ask what we can do about that.
If you want to know what you really think and feel about your faith, here’s a simple test: have you shared it lately? Are you willing to share it? Because there’s a natural human instinct to share what we love with those we love.
Notice I’m not asking you—yet!—to share your faith with strangers. We have enough family and friends around us, especially this weekend. Do we have enough gratitude for God’s gifts to share them?
This isn’t one of those rhetorical questions you can hear in a homily and forget about by the time we say the Creed. No, today we’re all of us challenged to answer that question—to test how seriously we thank God for faith—through action.
In the next four weeks, our parish offers three ways to share what you love with those you love.
First, the Alpha Film Series. This immensely-popular program starts on Tuesday, October 17. It offers eleven weeks of great videos and non-judgmental conversation, served up with dessert. Alpha is a basic introduction to Christian faith, suitable for just about everyone from atheists to agnostics to fallen-away Catholics. (Although unless you are one of those, you can’t come alone—bring someone along.)
Second, around the same time, we are launching the Discover Discipleship faith study. It’s suitable for everyone, especially those who have already done Alpha. Many small groups will meet at convenient times. The Discovery faith study comes to us from CCO, which has used it to lead university students—a tough crowd—to know Jesus. Now we’re using it for all ages. And since Discover Discipleship is only a six week-program, it may suit those who can’t find the time for Alpha.
Finally, we are again hosting the Path of Life Retreat. On Saturday November 4, the dynamic Jake Khym will be with us to repeat his wonderful all-day presentation. It was a sell-out last year, so I am hoping that many of you who attended will have the enthusiasm to invite others. Tickets go on sale next week.
I am praying that by the end of Thanksgiving Day, every parishioner will have invited one person to one of these three events.
1-2-3. Check the bulletin or website for all the details. And check your heart for the willingness to replant the vineyard today in gratitude for all that God has done for you.