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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Thanksgiving and Forgiveness

Thanksgiving takes a kind of courage that comes from above. This is because real thanksgiving is not limited to assenting to the fact that we owe God a debt of gratitude. Nor is it a vague wish or sentimental feeling that we indulge. It is not merely tolerating one another around a common table while judging one another in our hearts. True thanksgiving is evoked by God's immense and faithful love, and it wants to render Him a return for what He has done for us. The hidden immensity of God's love evokes a thanksgiving that implicates one's whole life in a deep and expansive solidarity. The meal that we share is only a sign of this tender movement toward real friendship. The Church visibly expresses this invisible reality. This communion of hearts tends toward a loving union deeper than differences in opinion. This kind of thanksgiving means to surmount even those grievances that we struggle to forgive. This is true even when the call of God's love leaves us confounded. Because so much is hidden from us and his ways are so mysterious, we might even be tormented by a secret concern that we someone who we love has fallen into a void that is beyond His reach. Or else, that we have fallen into it ourselves. In the face of such difficult feelings, bearing with one another may seem impossible. Yet if we give God our hidden trials, with God's help, we can always find new ways to build up one another. The mysterious faithfulness of God's love evokes a gratitude that is faithful. When we have been touched by His love, we want to give thanks for Christ's faithfulness to us unto death. This compels us to be reconciled with one another, no matter the cost. God is always ready to free us. He is waiting for us to make a simple act of faith. He waits for us to choose to believe that His merciful love is greater than our misery, greater than our inability to love, greater than our own personal evil and even the evil at work in the world. When we cry out with this kind of faith, He always acts with great power. The Holy Spirit reveals in prayer how the love of the Father gives the courage and the motive to hold out the hand of friendship once again, to forgive, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive as the Father has forgiven us through the blood of His Son, this is true thanksgiving! Thanksgiving rooted in this effort opens up the path to perseverance with one another out of reverence for Christ.

Granted this kind of gratitude is a very high standard—but to strive for it is to avail ourselves a foretaste of heaven. As imperfect as our own efforts at thanksgiving are, the Father delights in them, treasuring each one as if it were the most important and most solemn moment of our lives—as indeed it is. To know this delight of the Father is to participate in the joy of Christ's own sonship. In this, we glimpse the even greater homecoming awaits us.

This kind of thanksgiving is a great heart to heart, the most intimate exchange of secrets: the secrets of a human heart and the deep secrets of the Trinity are pledged and completely given. Such profound things lead to and flow from the greatest thanksgiving of all—our Eucharistic sacrifice. In this, our heart ache and His coincide. There are no words to express how much God treasures this solidarity. It is the very reason that the Word became flesh. In this true thanksgiving, the secret concerns of God become our own concerns just as He has made our secret concerns the concerns of His own heart.

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