- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

Homily for November 25, 2021 – Thanksgiving

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO


Is 63:7-9, Col 3:12-17, Lk 17:11-19

Our success with dealing with hardships in our life depends so much on our attitude. Is the glass half empty or half full? If we were to think of our situation as a pie graph, it’s usually only a small sliver that we’re complaining about and the rest of the graph is colored in with things that we actually should be very grateful for if we took the time to count our blessings. Instead, we have a tendency to focus on the negative and it makes us miserable. Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful for all the things in our life that we might otherwise be taking for granted. And, it might even be a day for thanking God for the things that we see as hardships now. So often when we look back we see them in a different light.

A story comes to mind that will illustrate this point well. I recently read the book, THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie ten Boom. During WWII she was living in Holland and instrumental in the Underground that was hiding Jews and smuggling out downed Allied pilots. She and most of her household were eventually arrested by the SS and put in prison. Her father soon died, and she and her sister, Betsie, were moved from place to place and eventually ended up in the concentration camp Ravensbruck in Germany where the conditions late in the war were really horrible. Corrie had miraculously been able to smuggle a tiny Bible in through all the many checkpoints and inspections. At night they would read it and each verse would be translated into various languages as it radiated out to the rest of the female prisoners who were desperate for something to give them hope and meaning.

At one point they were moved to another sleeping area with platform after platform stacked on top of each other as bunks and only about two feet of crawling space. Corrie and Betsie climbed and crawled to the place that was assigned to them and were getting settled in. She writes:

We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw. We could hear the women who had arrived with us finding their places.

Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!”

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.

“Here! And here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place!”

“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. . . . In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. . . .’ “ It seemed written expressly for Ravensbruck.

“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”

“Oh yes: ‘. . . to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus——-’ “

“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”

I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“Such as?” I said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for——”

The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“ ‘Give thanks in ALL circumstances,’ “ she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

As it turned out, the new setting offered them greater opportunities for their Bible readings each evening. There seemed to be less surveillance from the guards. Sometime later Betsie, because of her weak health, was assigned to the sewing crew. Corrie continues:

One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well—I’ve found out.”

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ “

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.