I’d like to address the subject of thanksgiving from a point of view you may find unusual. Really what I want to say is that if we trust God as we should, there’s a lot more to thank God for than we normally find worthy of gratitude. Many of you have heard of C.S. Lewis. Your children may have read his Chronicles of Narnia, and many people I know who’ve read Mere Christianity have told me they considered it, perhaps, the best book they ever read in their lives.
Well here’s something interesting about C.S. Lewis you may not know. Although he wasn’t a Catholic, he carried on a long-running correspondence with an Italian priest. Lewis didn’t speak Italian, and the priest didn’t speak English, so they corresponded in Latin, the one language they shared in common and in which they were both fluent. In the course of their correspondence, Lewis wrote this: “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if it is bad, because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of the world and the hope of our eternal country.”
The lives of many of the saints illustrate Lewis’ contention. St. Marie-Therese de Soubiran, e.g., who lived in 19th century France, was accused by a jealous nun of grossly mismanaging their religious order. The bishop believed these false charges and removed Mother Marie-Therese from her convent, to which she was never permitted to return. Toward the end of her life, she wrote to a friend: “The great truth that God is all and the rest nothing becomes the life of the soul, and upon it one can lean securely amid the incomprehensible mysteries of this world. . . . Should I have learned this without such cruel anguish? I do not think so.”
In my own life, I can testify personally to a mysterious truth to which many others who have undergone similar trials will bear witness. It’s this: As terrible as war is, as unspeakable as its conditions are and the things one sees and endures and is made to do in it, as much as all sane people pray for peace and an end to all war, having lived through one as a soldier, with other soldiers, I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything in the world. I wouldn’t recommend it or wish it on anybody, but I thank God not just for getting me through it but for entrusting the experience to me. I can say the same thing for just about every painful experience I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t be who I am without the scars. I make a poor enough show of it as it is, but I’d be even worse were it not for the many things I’ve been through and because of what I took to be unanswered prayers.
So thanks be to God this day, not just for sunshine but for rain, for good fortune and for bad, for health and for sickness, for success and failure, for plenty and want, for love and bereavement, healing and scars. Thanks for the gift of life with all its light and shadow. With the eyes of faith, we can see that it’s given to take the clay of which we’re made and mold us into something that sunshine and smooth sailing alone could never produce. Scripture tells us that our Lord learned obedience through what he suffered. If Christ, the only begotten Son of God, in his human nature, could learn depths of obedience from suffering, what might we, poor banished children of Eve, not learn by bearing our crosses?
C.S. Lewis was right: We ought to give thanks for all fortune, good and bad, because it’s all part of the path that leads to eternal life. If we get as good at giving thanks as we should, maybe someday we’ll be able to say with St. Catherine of Siena, who lived in the plague-ridden 14th century, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Thanks be to God for heaven, and all that gets us there. Thanks for all fortune, good and bad. Thanks be to God, who knows what he permits and why her permits it. Amen.