As families gather around the table to give thanks, most people will offer thanks for family and friends, for the gifts and good things they’ve enjoyed, but for Catholics, our deepest appreciation should be for our most prized possession, which are the sacraments, especially the gift of the Eucharist.
There is nothing on Earth that can compare with the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which is appropriately named since the word Eucharist is a derivative of the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” It reminds us that every day is a day to give thanks. Whether we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood physically or spiritually, he remains present to us in every tabernacle throughout the world.
The Lord promised, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich foods and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever” (Is 25:6-8). This passage looks to the eternal banquet where all who are found worthy will enjoy for all eternity rich food for the soul and drink the sweet unction of God’s love.
All that presently confuses and confounds us will be revealed when the veil of sin is lifted, but while on earth, that mountain often looks more like the hill of Calvary. Yet, when we walk by faith, we can partake of the rich food and choice wine that is ours through the Eucharist. This alone can balance the conundrum we face in the presence of ongoing wars, famine, political strife and violence.
The human tendency is to experience the rewards of eternal life here and now. Consequently, when tragedy or suffering occurs, it’s not uncommon to hear people ask: “Where is God?”
Rarely do we thank God for the challenges, struggles and pain we endure in this life and yet, they too are reasons to give thanks.
A friend who is a psychologist once told me that one of the signs she looks for in clients is their ability to be thankful for the struggle they’ve endured. To her, it’s a sign that they have truly been healed. It’s not that she expects them to be grateful for the crisis, but rather, from what they’ve learned from moving through it. Standing at the other end, they’re able to look back and see how they’ve become stronger emotionally and are better able to cope the next time they’re faced with a challenge or problem.
I’m often reminded of her words when November rolls around and I ask myself, what are some of the problems, challenges and even crises in my life for which I can give thanks?
As Americans, we pride ourselves on our ability to stand strong in the face of danger, but we too often fail to attribute that strength to God. As people of faith, we should be able to recognize how God’s grace was present during times of crises, healing our wounds, deepening our faith, and strengthening us for the journey ahead. God has a plan for every person that is revealed when we seek to do God’s will rather than attempt to bend God’s will to align with our own.
With Thanksgiving Day a week away, we do well to reflect on the whole of life and discover, or perhaps rediscover, the many ways that God has been present, directing and guiding us as we navigate life’s challenges, heartaches and crises.
We may not be able to give thanks when we are in the throes of the problem. It often happens that we recognize the hand of God only in retrospect. Sometimes the gifts we receive come wrapped in plain brown paper, such as plans that have been thwarted, illness and deprivation. And yet, when we discover the grace hidden within every challenge, we are able to give thanks, not only for the good things in life that we’ve enjoyed, but for every moment.
When viewed through the lens of faith, nothing escapes the loving touch of God. No matter how rugged the terrain, when we place our life in God’s hands, trusting in his loving mercy and goodness, everything, the good and not so good, can be efficacious because “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
May this Thanksgiving fill all our hearts with the joy of the Gospel, because the good news is: We have been redeemed once and for all by Jesus, but it’s up to each person to repent and believe that God is everywhere and in every life event and that we never walk alone.
Barbara Hughes is an award-winning author, retreat facilitator and spiritual guide. She lives in Virginia Beach and can be reached at [email protected].