Thanksgiving is still five weeks away (thanks be to God - I am so not ready for winter yet), but I am already contemplating the power and the obligation of gratitude. Truly it characterizes life in Christ, so it is never out of season, but specific circumstances commend it today to my attention, and yours.
First, I am grateful for the gracious response I have received to my preaching of the essential consideration and commitment of the offertory. Though I paraphrase, more folks than I expected have said, Thanks, I needed that. This is gratifying, since it is right up there with Trinity Sunday at the top of my list of Tough Preaching Topics. It also makes me regret taking last year off, under the guise of giving you the year off. The majority of you obviously took very seriously my call to consider, calculate, and commit, using the Biblical measure of tithing, ten percent, as the measure of our devotion. The pledge cards are being processed, so you can expect a response in the not-distant future. Yet I will not wait to say, Thank you.
This year, I brought us to this topic earlier than I have in the past, and one of the main reasons for that is to be able to give our attention next month to the focus of the liturgy at year’s end. In November, the Church contemplates the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – as well as our responsibility to those who have died.
Our central act of thanksgiving, the Eucharist, gives our gratitude to God for having liberated us from fear of death. But our disposition toward gratitude is amplified by our mindfulness of all that we have received from so many other people as well – friends, family, teachers, priests, and even strangers, who made sacrifices so that we could receive great benefits we do not allow ourselves to take for granted.
In discussing our offertory work, I called to mind all that was given to us by the founders and builders of this great parish. Similarly, in recollecting everything we have, for which we must be grateful to God, we are flooded with memories of the people through whom He gave us those gifts, starting with our own parents.
And so I have already begun adding to my All Souls list, the roster of people for whom I pray daily during November, whose names I place in my envelope that rests with all of yours on the Holy Altar for commemoration at Mass each day. I just added my first Scoutmaster, whose son I met for the first time while in Birmingham for my high school reunion. I added Msgr. William Awalt, who was the pastor for my first parish assignment as a seminarian, and Fr. David Conway, who was my predecessor at Old St. Mary’s in Chinatown. Since I keep the list on my computer, I do not have to re-write it each year, and their names go right alongside all my grandparents, college professors, classmates, and friends who are gone from this life, but not from my grateful heart.
Daily as I walk the campus of this beautiful parish, my heart is stirred to gratitude. That gratitude ranges freely from current gratitude, for all you who do and give so much to this parish, and to me; to prior gratitude, for the priests and people who built and enlivened Saint Bernadette, for the people whose lives have touched mine, even indirectly, over the years, so much to my great benefit; and to future gratitude, for the hope that I hold and treasure in Christ’s gracious gift of salvation.
And so wherever you see me, at the altar or on the field, and whatever your day or disposition brings, in whatever season, I hope that you are able to say that what you and I hold most in common is that we are grateful.