Thursday, November 28, 2013

Celebrating a Holy, not merely a happy, Thanksgiving

The Collect for Thanksgiving Day from the Book of Common Prayer
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Below are words from St. Basil the Great: bishop, theologian, spiritual guide. He lived during the fourth century. He was a highly insightful pastor of souls. One of his chief concerns was to motivate Christians to be generous and live truly thankful lives…lives filled with “eucharist” to God.

Thanksgiving Day is often spoken of and experienced as largely a celebration of family and the happy, cozy family atmosphere. But for the Christian, this is not its deepest or most significant meaning. For us, Thanksgiving must be a crystallization of lives lived with gratitude and concrete acts of generosity and service to those in need—the “Christ in our midst” who is so easily forgotten when we focus on mere physical or sentimental “happiness.” This is why this reading from St. Basil has special significance today. As the Thanksgiving Day collect notes, this is not a personal but a communal feast, one that may only really be celebrated by Christians if the rest of the year expresses the generosity of God to and through us.

For this day truly to be a Holy Day in the Calendar of the Church, it must be a celebration of Christ’s call—and our response—to live holy lives of thankfulness expressed in mercy, giving, and compassion. If we have not cared to do so before, let today mark the beginning of a new life of thanksgiving-in-action. Then—and only then—may we feast in the justice and purity of Christ’s Kingdom, of which today’s Eucharist and earthly banquets are a foretaste.

Take care that the destiny of the “wicked rich” is not yours. Their history has been written to help us avoid being like them. Therefore, imitate the earth: like it, you should bring forth fruit; do not show yourselves worse than something which has no soul. It is not for her own pleasure that the earth brings forth her fruits; it is for your service.

But you have this advantage, that the benefits of your benevolence will ultimately return to you; for benefactors always reap the reward of the good they have done. You have given to the poor; what you have given is returned to you with interest. The wheat, when it falls to the ground, produces for the sower. Similarly, the bread that you hive to the poor is a source of future profits. Therefore, may the end of labors be for you the beginning of celestial sowing: “Sow for yourselves righteousness,” says Scripture.

Why then torment yourself so much and make so many efforts to preserve your riches behind mortar and bricks? “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” You love money because of the consideration it procures for you. Think how much greater will be your renown if one can call you a parent, protector of thousands of children, rather than if you keep thousands of gold pieces hidden away. Whether you like it or not, you will surely have to leave your money behind one day; on the contrary, the glory of all the good you have done will go with you before the sovereign Master, when an entire people will hasten to defend you before the Judge of all things, and will confer titles showing that you nourished and assisted them, and that you have been good.

One sees people throw their fortune to wrestlers, to comedians, to repugnant gladiators—and all this in theatres, for a moment’s glory, for the noisy acclamation of the people. And would you count the cost when you can elevate yourself to so great a glory? God will approve of you, the angels will acclaim you, and all who have lived since the creation of the world will celebrate your happiness: an imperishable glory, a crown of justice, the kingdom of heaven—such will be the prizes that you will receive.

St. Basil the Great,
from a Sermon on Love
as translated by J. Robert Wright.

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