Friday, November 23, 2018


In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

This verse comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. The directness and unequivocalness sort of stopped me in my tracks. “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”? This doesn’t sound like Paul is offering us a pious nosegay or a sort of optional extra that we can take or leave.

After hearing this proclamation, I decided to go to a biblical commentary. I must admit that I did this in part, at least, looking for, if not an outright qualification, at least a nuance on what Paul is saying here. I admit that this says more about me than about Paul. What I discovered after my biblical commentary exploration is that Paul most certainly does not qualify the circumstances in which we are to give thanks. He says “all” and he means “all.” In fact, the two previous imperatives that he offers us in this passage are just as comprehensive and unqualified. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.”

Paul’s words may lack qualification because they are grounded, sourced in a fundamental, all-encompassing truth and reality that is inescapable for believers, as far as Paul is concerned. “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is much more than a metaphor for Paul. And it is meant to be much more than a metaphor for us.  Because we are in Christ Jesus, the context of all of our lives - its lights and shadows; its good times and bad times; its joys and sorrows; its successes and failures; all of it is in Christ Jesus. In this sense, for Paul, all of life is meant to be thankful worship of God. Worship, for Paul, doesn’t just take place within the walls of a sanctuary. We pray always. We rejoice always. We give thanks always. Karl Rahner beautifully and succinctly expressed this reality when he said: “Everyday life must become our prayer.” Since this is so, then thanksgiving is a necessary and inevitable by-product, overflow of Christian living. Our life is never governed by circumstances, however satisfying or unsatisfying they may be. What governs our life as Christians is the assurance that we already are in Christ Jesus. And so, we are called to a life of perpetual thanksgiving.

3000 years ago, our Jewish forebears formulated blessings – berakoth - for every circumstance of life. If it was good news, then, “Blessed be God who is good and does good.” If it were bad news, “Blessed be the judge of truth.” As far as they were concerned human beings had a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad that happens in life as well as the good. Because all life comes from God. As the Talmud says: “It is forbidden to taste of the world without a blessing.”

But this shouldn’t be news for us who, whenever we gather around this altar for the Eucharist we lift the bread that will be broken and the cup that will be poured out saying: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.” We offer thanks for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. In blessing the whole of Christ’s life, we are also blessing the whole of our lives who are in Christ Jesus - the things we welcome as well as the things we would risk our souls to avoid. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Dom Damian's homily for Thanksgiving Day.