Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

To offer thanks and praise

 

When parents teach their children to say “Thank you” to themselves and to others they are not only training them to meet the expectations of good mannerly behaviour; they are developing in them an attitude to life and to people. In the first place it is an attitude of not taking for granted anything or anyone. More positively it is an attitude of appreciation of all the goodness, the love, the interdependence and the service with which we are surrounded each day. It is the beginning of an appreciation that life itself is gift and that in the whole of life we own so much to others. 

 When we thank someone it us usually for a particular gift or act of service or love. Jesus takes us further. What Jesus teaches us is that in each particular object of our thanks is a sign of Someone who gives, who cares and loves us constantly, of God whom he invites us to call “Father”.

When asked about Jesus and giving thanks people often turn to the story of ten lepers who were healed, only one of whom came back to say thank you. But this is to miss so much of the attitude of appreciation and the awareness of the many signs of God’s love and goodness that show up constantly in the life and the conversations of Jesus. He is aware of the sky which changes with the seasons, of the flowers which decorate the fields, of the crops growing through night and day, of the trees rich with fruit. In it all he recognises the ‘creator of heaven and earth’, who makes it yield food, who knows every sparrow that falls, who makes the sun rise and the rain fall. And he gives thanks for this abiding and creative presence of his loving Father. He is alert to the generous spirit of a wealthy young man and to the total giving of a poor widow; he recognises the complete trust of a Roman centurion and acknowledges the courageous argument of a Canaanite mother. And in it all he sees the signs of the loving and live-giving presence of his Father, and gives him praise.

Not that the life of Jesus was surrounded by all that is sweet and light. His was a time of great unrest, of political oppression, of religious tension, of cruelty and persecution. Jesus himself had to face hypocrisy and frustration, desertion and want. “The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head”. But Jesus was no “fair-weather” friend of God. Even in times like these he was still able to trust that he was not deserted by God and ready to say “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth”.

Sometimes we see Jesus thanking God, sometimes praising, sometimes blessing. The basic attitude underlying all these words is probably best expressed by the word we have used above: “appreciation”. Jesus was expressing appreciation for God’s goodness and greatness seen in the context of everyday life, and still trusted even when it seemed hidden. This attitude of appreciation which leads Jesus to offer thanks and praise comes from his being aware of God’s presence in creation, alert to the signs of God’s presence in people and in events. He was totally appreciative of God’s goodness both in past history and in the present. 

We too need to develop the same sensitivity, an awareness and appreciation of the may signs of goodness, love, beauty, and so on in and surrounding our own lives, an attitude of appreciation to all life’s gifts and to the gift of life itself. We need to pay more explicit attention to the beauty of an object, the kindness of a shop assistant, the skill of a workman, the power of a machine, the cleverness of an invention, the value of a friend, the courage of a neighbour, the generosity of a relation, the pleasure of a meal together, the fun of a family outing, and so on. This is the stuff of which a spirit of thankfulness is made. The absence of thankfulness does not mean that a person is merely ungrateful - it means that a person is missing the thrill of appreciation of the hidden depths of each day’s living. It is especially in prayerful reflection that we will develop the sensitivity to recognise the many signs of God’s loving presence and action throughout the whole of life, and the spirit of appreciation that will turn us to render him our thanks.