By Sister Jean Ann McGrath
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For many years in our parish, the day began with a beautiful liturgy where a table blessing and even a loaf of fresh-baked bread from a local Italian restaurant was sent home with each family to share at their Thanksgiving table. This year, I worry that the spirit of gratitude and peace that set the tone for the day may be difficult to replicate as COVID 19 protocols limit the number of people who will be able to attend the liturgy and health and safety regulations alter the rituals that made the day so special.
One thing that will not change is the Gospel reading, the lovely narrative about the ten lepers who, when they encountered Jesus, begged to be cured. The gospel story is focused not only on the healing miracle, but also on the disgrace that only one remembered to come back and say thank you. During my teaching years, I loved to retell that story as a way to remind my students how often we forget to say thank you for the blessings and graces we too often take for granted. We Christians sometimes have pretty poor manners.
This year, I have a different take on the gospel story and have thought more about the nine who forgot their manners than the one who returned.
For most of my life, I have been quick to judge the ingratitude of the other nine. This year, I think I want to “give them a break” and think about how they danced into their future healed, happy, and yes, perhaps hopeful for a life they could not have imagined had they not so boldly asked for the grace to be healed.
I think I can relate more to the nine this year because of the turbulent times in which we live. The Covid Crisis, political anxiety, deep concern about the economy, and isolation from loved ones are just some of the signs of a world that begs to be healed. I yearn for the consolation and strength of crowded Churches where the rituals of life, weddings, sacramental celebrations, and even funerals create the memory making moments that shape our life and faith journey. I yearn for the raucous family Thanksgiving celebration that each year seems to have more “kids’ tables” as our family grows.
This thanksgiving, like the ten lepers, we stand waiting and begging to be healed from the uncertainty of our troubled world. And, because ours is a God of infinite compassion, empathy and mercy, we know that one day we, like the ten, can be confident that healing will happen. But, will we remember our manners?
I would like to think that among the nine, one of two were just so overjoyed at being healed that they could not wait to be reunited with the community that had shunned them. “Look, I am whole and home!”
Maybe one or two were the more contemplative and introverted type who just had to sneak away and ponder what had just happened in their lives “How could this be when I was so hopeless and alone and now I am whole again?”
Perhaps there were a few skeptics among the nine…”Is this a temporary cure? Can I dare return to life as I once knew it?”
I have at times, been the one who remembered to return and say thank you. I have also (and perhaps more frequently) been one of the nine who for reasons unknown, but possibly understandable, took the blessings of life too much for granted.
This Thanksgiving will be so different than others I have known. Our large family will not be gathered around a single table. Out of town relatives will not be flying in to celebrate. The Thanksgiving Liturgy will be very simple. But I will be more conscious of the ten who waited to encounter the healing presence of Jesus. I hope I remember to say thank you.
But if not, I believe that the God who can heal and transform all that worries me these difficult days, is also is a God of infinite patience, understanding, and grace who will understand if I forget my manners.
About the Author
After years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!