Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

“… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thes 5:18

Next week Americans will celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It has origins that are both religious and civic and harkens back to a time when most Americans professed religious faith and it still serves to reinforce the strong Judeo-Christian religious currents that shaped our nation’s history and identity.

Giving thanks is a central part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The word, Eucharist, has Greek origins and translated means “thanksgiving.” The offering of ourselves with Christ to the Father in the Mass is the supreme act of rendering thanks for our creation and our redemption.

Saint Paul also speaks of the central feature of thanksgiving in the life of a disciple. In his final exhortation to the Church of Thessalonica, he writes “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:18).

Two things about Saint Paul’s words on thanksgiving jump out. First, that we are to give thanks “in all circumstances.” I am familiar with giving thanks when something good happens, or when I sit down for another meal. However, it initially strikes most of us as odd to give thanks when things aren’t so good. But that is exactly what Saint Paul teaches; we are to be thankful even when things aren’t going our way. How can this be?

To understand this seemingly unusual advice from the apostle Paul, we must first realize our radically new status as citizens of a new kingdom. We now belong to God and his reign. As citizens of this Kingdom, we are meant to see that our misfortunes and sufferings are material for God’s reign, too. They are things He permits for us to participate in building the Kingdom. We are in Christ now, and all things in our lives have a mysterious purpose for extending His Kingdom—especially our sufferings. So, in the new logic of the Kingdom of God, and using Saint Paul’s words again, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).  That is why a disciple can give thanks “in all circumstances.”

The second thing we notice about Saint Paul’s advice is that giving thanks in all circumstances is “the will of God” for us.  Often, we turn to God in prayer seeking His will. We certainly ought to do this when we are confronted with important decisions. However, we must not overlook the inspired words of Scripture which speak of God’s will for all disciples. This is one of those instances when God speaks to each of us who are His children. His will is that we be people of thanksgiving in all circumstances. Our lives should be marked by intentional thanksgiving each day. One of the fruits of this way of life is joy; grateful people are happy people.

As we join other Americans next week to celebrate our national holiday, let’s not forget that “giving thanks” is part of our vocation as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s not relegated to one day but is part and parcel to every day now that we are citizens of the new Kingdom — the Kingdom established by Christ, of which we are citizens through baptism.

+James V. Johnston, Jr.
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Catholic Key, November 22, 2019 issue

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