As Thanksgiving Day Approaches, Are We Truly Grateful?

Lord, thank you for what you’ve given me, help me this day to use it in your service!  That is a beautiful prayer!  In the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19, ten Lepers were healed, only one came back to thank God!  How much of our lives is lived without fully being aware of what God has done for us and without giving God thanks; perhaps one in ten, or 90%?

Recently we took our youth to a Diocese Youth Rally (the Diocese of Oakland at St. Bede’s Church in Hayward, CA). We heard many inspiring talks. One was from a Franciscan Brother of mine, Br. Chris Saindon OFM Conv.  He shared with the youth, that Jesus told us “I call you friends” (Jn 15:15). Then Brother Chris continued; ‘I wonder if you had a friend who invited you over to eat dinner at his house every week, but you never went. Or who wrote a book that was a best seller, but you never read it. Or whenever you talked together, all you did is talk about yourself, complain, and ask for things.  What kind of friends would you really be???’ Our friend Jesus invites us to be with Him at Mass, read about and be with Him in the Gospels, to listen to Him and be with Him in prayer, and to serve Him in our brothers and sisters, but we don’t recognize and accept this great gift of Jesus offering Himself to be our Friend, except maybe one in ten times!

Also at the youth rally, we were given the gift of another person who showed us how to be grateful for what we have, and not dwell on what we do not have. His name is Tony Melendez. Tony is a musician, and evangelist, who was born with no arms or hands, and who plays the guitar using his feet!  He is becoming known throughout the world since playing for Pope Saint John Paul II in Los Angeles in 1987. papalkiss After performing, the pope got up and kissed Tony, and expressed his wish that Tony would continue this ministry of “Giving hope to all people”.  That wish has become a prayer answered as Tony’s ministry now takes him all over the world to play guitar, lead people in praising God, and testifying that he is GRETEFUL to be able to use what God gave him, in God’s service. 

As moved as I was by Tony’s story, and his playing the guitar and leading the gym filled with youth, I’d like to share the message of Tony’s brother, Jose. Tony invited his brother Jose, who shares in their evangelization ministry, to come forward and speak. Jose shared that when they were growing up he would often hear other kids make fun of his brother. One day, he got so angry that he began to fight with the kids who made fun of his brother. The fight became bloody. Jose went home, showing blood and other visible signs of the fight. Jose said that when he walked into their home, it seemed like Tony immediately knew what happened and why Jose was in a fight.  Tony said to Jose, “Jose, I was born without arms and hands. But if I had been born with them, I would not use them for violence”.  Truly Tony was born with gifts from God. He did not receive the same gifts as many other kids, but what he has received, he is using to GIVE GOD THANKS.  That is a vocation. That is our purpose in life.

In the Franciscan Tradition, we speak of “Perfect Joy” (read about it here). “Perfect Joy” is the God given gift to find joy in no matter what life brings, because the greatest gift, is the gift of life itself, and with it the ability to be in the presence of Jesus our Friend, now and forever. This gift is available to all of us, no matter what the circumstance of life, and this gift alone is sufficient.  Saint Francis spoke of “Perfect Joy” often, and encouraged his friars to simply live in Gratitude and use what God has given them to proclaim the Kingdom of God, in both word and deed.  On his death bed, Saint Francis asked his brothers to read to him from the Gospel of John, starting at chapter 13, until the end. (I invite you to read and meditate on this often.) This portion of the John’s Gospel is the passion of Jesus; the Greatest Gift God has given us.  It is about God’s Love for us; spoken at the last supper, and shown to us on the cross. It is also about how to use this gift in the Love and service of others (as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and commands them to do likewise). This Gospel passage renewed again in Saint Francis His “Perfect Joy”, and he admonished the friars; ‘As of yet brothers, we have done so little, let us, while we still have time, do Good.’

Once a year, our nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day. However, every day the church celebrates Thanksgiving; the Eucharist. Our Church teaching is that “The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian Life”. It is the central mystery of our Christian life; because it is God’s saving act (the saving sacrifice of Christ on Calvary) made present for us. It is made present for us to participate in, to receive, and to allow it to transform us.  Eucharist is the Greek word for Thanksgiving! That is profound. The source and summit of our life is Thanksgiving! This is the fundamental attitude of a disciple of Jesus. It is the fruit of a powerful realization of what God has done for us. It is the fruit of being a Friend of Jesus – truly! When we are truly grateful, we naturally desire to give thanks by the way we live our lives, that is, we desire to use our gifts in the ways that would please the gift giver! So, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year, let us call to mind all God has done for us. Let us not complain about the things we do not have. Rather let us give thanks to the Gift Giver, and use His gifts for His purpose!  Let us give thanks to God this Thanksgiving Day. Let us give thanks to God every day. Let us celebrate the Eucharist (Thanksgiving) often, and let the Eucharist (Thanksgiving), be the source and summit of our life!

Are you looking for a way to Give what you have been given in the service of the Lord? Would you like to live in God’s Perfect Joy, and use your gifts to share that with Others? This is the Franciscan Charism. Come and Join us to learn more about St. Francis at our THANKSGIVING TIME COME AND SEE! November 25-27. Click Here for more information. Call or email me to register.

Watch Tony Play for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles Here.

You can find out more about Tony’s ministry Here.



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