As we celebrate Thanksgiving, our hearts swell with gratitude for all the gifts in our lives. Among those gifts is the gift of faith. Last Sunday, in the Catholic Church, we concluded our Year of Faith. Of course, faith is not something you can neatly pack into a year’s reflection or celebration. It is a gift that permeates our entire life’s journey. Thanksgiving give us another opportunity to reflect on the gift of faith, and in particular to give thanks for all the people in our lives who have given us the gift of faith through their love.
What is faith anyway? It’s tough to neatly define. Actually, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."
As a Christian community we share faith and I think it’s important for us to celebrate and give thanks for that gift; and to reflect upon what this gift means to us. And to those who don’t share our faith, while it may be impossible for us to “explain” it, we can sure show it by the example of our lives.
For me the best way to understand faith is this: God is love and offers that love to us. We can accept it or reject it. Faith is accepting that invitation; not only believing that God is love with our minds, but taking the risk of letting it take up residence in our hearts, which means having to learn to trust in God’s love--even when when don’t have all the answers or know how it’s going to end. It’s a leap of trust and if we accept it, it allows us to become the person God created us to be.
At the Thanksgiving liturgy we hear the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. In that and all the healing stories, we hear Jesus say they brought about their own healing by having faith. Faith in what? Faith in believing that God loved them, despite being told that they weren’t loveable, that they were being punished.
I want to share a couple stories from my travels with Maryknoll that have shown me how faith is shared and what it does to us when we accept the gift. Since faith is belief in God’s love, it’s a lot like love. The more you give it away, the more it grows. If you keep it to yourself, it dies or turns into something ugly.
On a trip to Montego Bay in Jamaica I visited a AIDS Hospice. There was a woman there who didn’t have AIDS. She came from a very poor family and when her diabetes got so back that she had to have both her legs amputated, they didn’t know what to do with. So they literally dumped on the doorstep of the Hospice, figuring she’d die soon anyway. When she arrived she was quite bitter and angry that her family and friends has abandoned her. She kept to herself at first but eventually she she got to know the AIDS patients and heard their stories. They showed her love and accepted her into their community,
She was touched by their faith and belief that they were lovable. That love took root in her and grew and grew until it began to overflow from her to everyone she met. None of her concern was about her, but about whoever she was with. Despite all that happened to her, she was one of the most joyful person I ever met in my life. How could this be given all that had happened to her. In the short time I was with her, she ministered to me...she showed me what faith really is and gave the gift to me.
How does faith in God’s love change us?
Several years back on a Maryknoll trip to Tanzania in east Africa I had the opportunity to meet a leper. A local priest there was ministering to those who were kicked out their families, villages and tribes because they were unlovable. Lepers, people who had HIV/AIDS, prostitutes and other who had been deemed unlovable, undesirable and despicable. The priest gathered them together in a community, a small compound. I was invited to visit the priest and the community for lunch. When I arrived I got a tour and was introduced to the folks. Among them was a man with leprosy, a horrible, disfiguring disease. Finally we headed to the room where the lunch was prepared and when we got there, the leper at placed himself across the doorway and wouldn’t let us through. He was quite agitated and I couldn’t understand what he was saying in Swahili, but my Maryknoll companion told me that he was protesting. Apparently the priest has cut back the tobacco allotment, which this guy thought was unfair. He wasn’t going to budge until his right to tobacco was addressed. The priest was very embarrassed, but as we talked about his at lunch, we thought that this was actually a great success story.
Here was a man who was once ostracized, shunned, considered worthless and lovable. Now he was in a community where he was told he mattered, that he was loved and that is opinion actually counted. Although he wasn’t healed of leprosy, there was a more significant healing. He now knew he and dignity and couldn’t just be dismissed.
This story tells me that faith in God’s love does heal and make us whole. It allows us to become the person that God created us to be. God is love and we are created in the image and likeness of God. Faith makes us lovable and loving people.
And, when we live our lives as people who truly believe that we are loveable and indeed loved by God, people take notice. We share the gift of faith in God’s love by being joyful when it seems we should be angry and bitter; by being compassionate when there is nothing to be gained by it; by forgiving when the other hasn’t even apologized; by being hopeful when it seems there’s only reason for despair. In short, by living our lives as someone who knows he or she is loved and wants to share that love with everyone. It’s contagious. People are going to want some of that. So that is how we share the gift of faith.
This Thanksgiving I invite us to reflect upon and give thanks for all the people in our lives who gave us the gift of faith in God’s love. To reflect and be thankful for the many ways that faith in God’s love has changed our lives, healed us and helped us grow into the person God created us to be. And, to think about the people who need this gift of love and how we can be the example of God’s love in their lives so that they too can experience the amazing gift of faith.
Gracious God, out of your love you created us and give us life. We have come to know you are love because we have been loved. We remember and thank you all the people in our lives who have showed us your love by loving us.
We have accepted your gift of love. We have faith in power of your to heal us and transform us into the person you created us to be.
As your love wells up in us, we can only give thanks and humbly give it away. Send your Spirit to help us share the gift of faith in your love with everyone we meet.
We ask this through Jesus, who came to show your love and now sends us to the examples of your love.