On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, it is noteworthy and far from coincidental, that the first words of today’s Epistle are “We give thanks to God.” Before we delve deeper into the reasons for St. Paul’s gratitude, let me first explain what I mean when I say his words this Sunday are not a coincidence. You see, we are always complaining that we say our prayers to God but he never answers, and that is simply not true. God does find a way of communicating with us, other than by extravagant or miraculous means. He answers our prayers, not, usually, by sending angels to us in a dream or sending mysterious voices to our ears. He speaks to us through the very prayers we offer to him, namely, the Holy Liturgy of the Church. For those who do not pray the Divine Office, this means you’ll hear the voice of God in the words of the Mass. Sometimes these words will leap out of the missal and you’ll immediately recognize them for what they are, a divine communication from God’s lips to our ears. Other times, we may need to meditate for a while on the liturgical message to see how it might apply to our own lives. But the messages are there, and this is why I have a hard time understanding the mindset of those who pay no attention to their missals when they attend Mass, preferring their own private prayers and thoughts. While these should not be ignored, they can never take the place of the public prayer of the Church. We are members of the Mystical Body, and the prayers we make in unison with that Body are the very highest form of prayer we can make. In this prayer, we will hear the voice of God speaking to us.
So back to the main point—what is it that makes St. Paul so thankful to God this Sunday before Thanksgiving? Apparently, he is very grateful because of the Thessalonians’ “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He thanks God that these Thessalonians are doing so well in their practice of the three cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Notice that he does not give thanks to the Thessalonians themselves for being so good, but rather to God, who is the source of the grace that allows them to be so good.
On Thanksgiving Day, we often take turns telling the others at the table what give us cause to be thankful. St. Paul reminds us of something we don’t often think about, but for which we should truly offer thanks—the faith, hope and charity of our neighbour. That there are still some neighbours left who have managed to keep the faith in today’s godless and sinful world. They encourage us to by loyal to our Catholic faith and values. We are grateful to God also that some remain who continue to hope for the best in the midst of a society spiralling, it seems, out of control towards self-destruction. Their positive attitude may be what’s keeping us from falling into despair. And finally, we’re thankful for the charitable amongst us, those who love to love, whose life is taken up with doing good unto others. What an inspiration they are to us who are lukewarm and indifferent to the sufferings of others, who live mostly for ourselves.
The faith, hope and charity of our neighbor is indeed something which we, like St. Paul before us, should be grateful. But more important yet, let’s remind ourselves that their virtue must be our challenge. How comforting it would be to hear from the lips of those around us at the Thanksgiving Table that they are thankful to us for our inspiring life of faith, hope and charity! Do we in fact inspire others with our own example? We have a few days left before we put the turkey in the oven, so let’s use them in a wise attempt to improve our own behavior, seeking to be that person in another’s life to whom they may turn in their doubts, their despair, and their sorrows, who may indeed provide the inspiration they seek and the help they need. Let’s try and make ourselves someone for whom loved ones and strangers alike may feel truly thankful. Be the person you’d want to meet!