By Bishop James Conley
This Sunday, as the Church celebrated the first World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that each of us should be thankful for “the joy of breaking the bread of God’s word, and... the joy of breaking and receiving the Bread of the Eucharist, food for life’s journey. All of us, none excluded, need this, for all of us are beggars when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end.”
God’s love, which gives our lives meaning and invites us to eternal life, is a gift of grace. A gift the Lord gives us only because he loves us. Not because we have earned it and not because we are worthy of it, but solely because God created us, delights in us, and desires to love us.
If we remember that the gift of God’s love—poured out for us in his word, and in the sacraments—is what gives our lives meaning and purpose, then gratitude will become the defining virtue of our lives.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, most of us will gather with family and friends to give thanks for the blessings of our lives. I will certainly give thanks to our good and loving Father for each of you, and for the grace of leading the Diocese of Lincoln as your bishop for these past five years.
This year, I will especially give thanks for the School Sisters of Christ the King, who will be formally established by the Church as an institute of consecrated life this coming Sunday, at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ.
But on Thanksgiving, we should especially give thanks to God for giving us, freely, what is most essential to our lives: his love, poured out especially through the Church, through his word and through the sacraments. And as we give thanks, we should ask ourselves how to make our lives a response of gratitude to the Lord.
The Gospel of St. Luke recounts the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers on a journey through Samaria. After being healed, only one returned to Jesus to give thanks. To this leper, Jesus said “Your faith has saved you.”
It can be easy, at times, to forget that God is the source of every good thing. But it’s true. The reason why Christ says that is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven is just that. It can be easy, when we are comfortable, to delude ourselves into thinking that we have no need of giving thanks, or that we are somehow able to provide for ourselves for what matters most in this life. But what matters most is God’s saving grace. And we cannot possibly provide that for ourselves. For what matters most, we can only give thanks.
The Lord calls us to express our gratitude for the gifts of healing and life he has given us. We express our gratitude with prayers of thanksgiving. But we should also express our gratitude by living lives of thanksgiving; by spending our lives giving glory to God, and loving the world with the same kind of love God has showered upon us. Jesus tells us to love him by loving “the least” of his brethren: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, the stranger, the suffering, and the forgotten. When we give thanks to the Lord for what he has given us, and when we remember that we have not earned the gift of his love, we should also ask ourselves how we have loved those to whom he calls us, in thanksgiving for the love he has given us.
I am thankful for each one of you, and for the privilege of being your bishop. I will remember you in the holy sacrifice of the Mass on Thanksgiving. I’ll pray for you, and I ask for your prayers, that each one of us might live lives of Thanksgiving: loving God, and his people, with the love that has given our lives meaning.