I am writing this column as I prepare to leave for the fall Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Please remember us in prayer as we gather to address many important areas of the life of the Church in our country, especially our continuing efforts to defend our religious liberty.
Next week, our nation celebrates Thanksgiving Day. Though a civil holiday, this feast has deep religious roots that are focused on thanksgiving to God for His manifold blessings in our lives and in the life of our nation. During this Year of Faith, we thank God especially for the gift of our faith. We thank Him for the gifts of creation and for the gift of redemption through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the words of Psalm 116: What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? We must never take for granted the Lord’s bounty, His goodness. Everything we are and have comes from Him. When we pray, we often offer petitions to our Father in heaven. We should also remember to thank our heavenly Father. As Saint Paul wrote: Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
In the Scriptures, it is interesting to note that when Jesus prays to the Father, He begins with thanksgiving. His prayer was characterized by thanksgiving. As members of Christ’s Body, the Church, we join with Him, our Head, in offering thanksgiving. Of course, the greatest prayer of thanksgiving to God is the Holy Eucharist. It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father. The very word Eucharist means thanksgiving.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read the following: The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity (CCC 1359).
If you are able, I highly recommend attendance at Holy Mass on Thanksgiving Day. What better way to observe the feast of Thanksgiving?
Besides prayers of thanksgiving, the feast of Thanksgiving also reminds us of another way to give thanks to God for His many blessings: charity towards the needy and the suffering. Pope Benedict XVI, in inaugurating this Year of Faith, reminded us that “the Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” Our faith requires charity. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and as we approach Christmas, it is important, through faith, that we recognize the face of Jesus in “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Our Holy Father has spoken of our Lord’s “perennial invitation to return the love by which He takes care of us. It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is His love that impels us to assist Him whenever He becomes our neighbor along the journey of life.”
I am continually edified and inspired by the many works of charity that I see throughout our diocese and the wonderful generosity of the faithful of our diocese. This is apparent in the generous donations to the Annual Bishop’s Appeal, as well as in the many Catholic charitable organizations in our diocese. On this Thanksgiving, I give thanks to God for you and for your faith lived in charity.
In my regular spiritual reading, I recently was reflecting on a passage from Saint Bonaventure in which he wrote the following about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi:
When Francis met the poor, he not only generously gave them even the necessities of life that had been given to him, but he believed that these should be given them as if theirs by right. It happened once that a poor man met him… when because of an illness Francis was wearing a short mantle over his habit. When his kind eye observed the man’s misery, he said to his companion: “We should return this mantle to this poor man because it is his. For we got it on loan until we should find someone poorer than ourselves.” But his companion, considering the need of his devoted father (Francis), obstinately refused, lest Francis provide for another by neglecting himself. But Francis said: “I believe that the great Almsgiver will charge me with theft if I do not give what I have to one who needs it more.” Therefore concerning all that was given him to relieve the needs of his body, he was accustomed to ask the permission of the donors to give it away if he should meet someone in greater need. He spared nothing at all, neither mantles, tunics nor books, not even decorations from the altar — all these he gave to the poor when he could.
Saint Francis of Assisi, the great saint of the poor, and indeed all the saints, teach us that love for God urges and enables us to love our neighbor. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are concrete actions that express this love. Such love also has an evangelizing component since it attracts people to the source of all love, to God who is love.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving and as we prepare for Christmas, let us be devoted to prayer and to works of charity. Charity is a love that comes from above. Saint Paul says: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Romans 5:5). I pray that we may all be guided by the Holy Spirit during these days to be thankful and to express our thanksgiving to God through prayer and charity, for His gifts of love are countless and his goodness infinite!
May you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!
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