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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Give thanks in all circumstances … and the God of peace will be with you (1thess. 5:18, phil., 4:9)

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The end of the year and beginning of a New Year is a unique moment in our lives as believers and members of Christ’s Body, the Church. We reflect on our past experience in life and we look forward in hope to the future. At the same time, we thank God for his blessings and protection and we pray that he will grant us a prosperous, peaceful, and healthy New Year that will renew and strengthen our faith and life on earth. We also make resolutions and promises to God, in order to, overcome our failures and weakness in our relationship with God and one another. But we do not fully know what will happen in the New Year whether it will be good for us or not. We, therefore, have doubts, uncertainties, and plans at the beginning of the New Year as a result of our human limitations and experiences. We even imagine the possibilities and incidents that will happen in our lives but we generally do not know what the future holds for us. So, we wonder about our future and obligations in the New Year. Considering our fears and uncertainties, hopes and expectations, doubts and questions at this moment, I will focus my New Year’s Message on St. Paul’s exhortation in 1Thess. 5:18 that we should, “give thanks to God in all circumstances for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.” If we give thanks to God at all times whether in times of joy or sorrow, success or failure, peace or instability, the God of peace will also be with us (Phil. 4:9).

In his letters to the local churches he established during this missionary journeys, St. Paul always expressed gratitude and thanksgiving to God for what God has done for him; for enabling him to preach the message of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. He expressed his gratitude to God in 1Cor. 1:1-4 and Phil. 1:1-4 for his special vocation as a servant of Christ and his fellowship in spirit with the members of the Church. So, he appreciated God’s divine grace, blessings, and assistance in his life and ministry in the local churches. The members of the churches were equally encouraged in the same spirit to offer their gratitude and thanksgiving to God for his gifts, mercy, compassion, and salvation in Christ Jesus. He instructed the faithful in Eph. 4:20, “to sing psalms and spiritual songs and make music to the Lord with all their hearts and always give thanks in the name of Jesus Christ to God, the Father for everything.” They were also invited in Col. 4:2 to persevere in prayer, be grateful to God, and beseech God to open a door for St. Paul to preach the mystery of Christ in his captivity as a prisoner of Christ. But he was more emphatic and persistent in 1Thess. 5:18 that they should constantly pray and give thanks to God in all circumstances. They were, consequently, required to offer their prayers of thanksgiving to God at all times regardless of their situation and condition in life. Every occasion and situation was, in that case, a moment to offer their prayers of thanksgiving to God for his gifts, mercy, and goodness. So, their gratitude was unconditional and independent of their experience and circumstance in life.

The obligation of the faithful to offer thanksgiving to God at all times and in all circumstances was, in that regard, a principle of life St. Paul required them to obey irrespective of their condition and experience in life. This principle is equally important for us in this New Year. We should express our gratitude to God in all circumstances for our vocation, life, qualities, and prospects in life. Our gratitude to God should not, therefore, be limited to what is useful and beneficial to us. We should be grateful to God even if we do not gain or experience in the course of the New Year what we expected, deserved, and desired in our lives. So, the idea and practice of offering thanksgiving to God only when we experienced or received God’s blessing, protection, and assistance in answer to our prayers is not in accordance with St. Paul’s preaching and teaching on thanksgiving. We should always, as St. Paul said, give thanks to God in all circumstances both in good and bad times; in times of joy and sorrow. So, we should not expect God to grant our prayers, needs, and plans in the New Year before we offer our thanksgiving to him. Nor should we wait until we are successful, rich, and comfortable in the New Year before we express our gratitude to God. Our thanksgiving to God should always be spontaneous, unconditional, and continuous in appreciation of our identity and existence in life.

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Throughout this New Year, we should thank God for our life and health, faith and gifts, vocation and status in life, blessings and challenges, success and failure, pain and suffering. Our life and health are not our own provisions but God’s precious gifts to us. We should, therefore, give thanks to God at all times and in all circumstances for our existence no matter our experience and misfortunes in life. God is also the source of our faith, as well as, our spiritual and human gifts, and vocation. We are obliged, for that reason, to always thank God for these sacred gifts we received at our baptism, confirmation, consecration, and ordination. His abundant blessings to us should also be acknowledged and appreciated when we experience God’s favors, goodness, and assistance. For God’s blessing is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1078-79, as a divine and life-giving action of our heavenly Father that is both a word and a gift … From the beginning until the end of time, the whole of God’s work of creation and redemption is a blessing. When we experience failure, pain, and suffering, we should also offer our prayers of thanksgiving to God for enabling us to participate in Christ’s suffering. This may be difficult to appreciate but our faith in God’s providence and wisdom should enable us to acknowledge his goodness even in our disappointment and suffering in life. The psalmist still expressed his gratitude to God in Ps. 41:1-3 in his poverty and sickness. He said, God delivered, protected, and kept him alive; he sustained him on his sickbed, and he healed him of all his infirmities. St. Paul also affirmed in Rom. 5:3-5 that we should bear our sufferings because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and our hope does not disappoint us. We should not, therefore, consider our failure and suffering in life as a worthless experience.

Whatever our situation and experience is in this New Year, we should offer our thanksgiving to God in the Eucharist we celebrate, our daily prayers, offerings, acts of charity, and selfless service to God and humanity. We have different options to thank God in both word and deed. So, it is not too demanding and costly to fulfill our obligation of thanksgiving to God for his providence, mercy, assistance, and guidance. Each and every one of us should be grateful to God if we cherish his generosity in our lives. We can offer the Eucharist in thanksgiving to God. For, the Eucharist is not just the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood that we celebrate as a memorial of his sacrifice and death on the cross. The Eucharist is also, as stated in CCC nos. 1359, a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving to God for creation and salvation in Christ Jesus. It is, therefore, appropriate and highly recommended for Catholics to request Mass as their form of thanksgiving to God for his blessings, protection, and assistance. Our prayers, offerings, and acts of charity can also be our gratitude to God. What we present to God should, therefore, be proper, precious, and worthy of God’s goodness, gifts, and deliverance. We should not, for that reason, underestimate the gifts and offerings we present to God. If we dedicate ourselves at the service of God and humanity without counting the cost, our service can also be our offering of thanksgiving to God. Our work and life of witness can also be our gratitude to God for his wonders and blessings.

If we thank God at all times and in all circumstances, we will experience God’s peace, goodness, and rewards. We will gain more from God if we offer and express our thanksgiving to God in the Eucharist, in prayer, and our service to God and humanity. We should not, therefore, assume that our acts of thanksgiving benefit God more than us. For, the Church clearly affirms in the fourth Preface of the weekday Mass that, “our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to God but profits us for our salvation.” We should, therefore, appreciate this fact and be willing to fulfill our obligation to thank God at all times. The Samaritan man who returned to express his gratitude to Jesus in Lk. 17:11-19 was rewarded for his gratitude. Jesus assured him that his faith has healed him. The other nine who never thanked Jesus were not only ungrateful; they never attained the blessing and wholistic healing of the Samaritan. We will also experience God’s peace, blessings, and assurance in our lives if we give thanks to God at all times and in all circumstances during this New Year. Our conscience will not trouble us if we express our gratitude to God. We will be at peace with ourselves and the God of peace will also be with us in our homes and place of work. The importance of offering our prayers and thanksgiving to God should, therefore, be fully understood at this point in time. If we experience joy or disappointment at any time, the God of peace with still be with us.

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We always thank God on New Year’s Day for what he has done for us in the past year and his love in enabling us to witness another year in our lives. So, many believers and members of the Church often celebrate New Year’s Day as a day of thanksgiving and gratitude to God than the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Both celebrations can be observed on New Year’s Day because they are not contradictory. But we should not only express our thanksgiving to God on New Year’s Day. We are required and encouraged by St. Paul in 1Thess. 5:18 to always give thanks to God in all circumstances throughout this New Year and the God of peace will be with us in our homes, places of work, and society (Phil. 4:9). Our gratitude and thanksgiving to God should not, therefore, be limited to a particular occasion or be conditioned by our position or situation in life. We should always and at all times offer our prayers and acts of gratitude to God on account of our faith in his goodness, mercy, and guidance. For, we have many reasons to thank God in spite of our fears, hopes, expectations, and experience in life. We should equally be inspired and motivated by this New Year’s message to cultivate the spirit of gratitude and be more eager and willing to offer our gifts and service in thanksgiving to God. As the Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, I wish the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and all the lay faithful of the Diocese, our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, Muslim believers, believers of other faiths, people of goodwill, and all Gambians at home and abroad a blessed, peaceful, healthy, successful, and prosperous New Year. May God hear our prayers, accept our offerings of thanksgiving, deliver us from all evil, and grant our needs through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Your Servant in Christ,

Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp.

Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.     

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