On Thanksgiving morning the bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania will meet with our Holy Father Pope Francis which will be the highlight of our Ad Limina pilgrimage to Rome. To the Holy Father I will bring the greetings, prayers and fidelity of the faithful of our diocese. That afternoon at the North American College myself and Father Robert Hughes, our Vicar General along with Father Michael Romano, my former priest secretary, presently assigned to the faculty of the North American College and our Camden seminarians studying in Rome, Reverend Mr. Peter Gallagher, who will be ordained a priest this coming June, and Paul Abbruscatto, a third theologian, will enjoy a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. While we will miss gathering with our families, we are brothers in Christ who belong to the family of the church of Camden. The Mass for Thanksgiving Day will follow later that afternoon at which I will pray in thanksgiving for the faithful of our diocese who love and support our church and for God’s blessings on our nation, particularly asking the Lord to keep safe those members of our diocese who serve the country in uniform.
We have so much to be thankful for as a nation, as a church and as family. As the nation we are grateful for the freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution; as church, we are grateful for our priests, consecrated religious women and men, and those who so generously work in our parishes, schools and charitable institutions. As family we are thankful for the love of each member.
I recently read this definition of gratitude —”a feeling of reverence for what is given.” That word “reverence” brings to mind God to whom we show, have and give “reverence.” In other words, gratitude, being thankful or giving thanks, has something to do with God. Actually, the faith based origins of our Thanksgiving holiday had much to do with God. Unfortunately, frequently in our time, God is not mentioned in reference to the national holiday of Thanksgiving. It’s all about the meal, the turkey, football, traveling, and getting ready for Black Friday.
It is good to remember that Thanksgiving Day has been set aside on our national calendar as a day to give God thanks. Its origins go back to a religious people, the Pilgrims, who thanked the Native Americans for assisting them as they adjusted in their new land. As a Christian people giving thanks to God and thanks to neighbor was natural to them.
The 17th century Dutch Dominican priest mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever said was thank you that would be enough.” Perhaps, this year at your Thanksgiving meal, you might encourage each one at your table to raise his or her personal prayer of gratitude to God. As for expressing gratitude to neighbor, I am so inspired by the overwhelming generosity of our people who at this time of year prepare donations of food for those who need help. From our parishes and schools there is such a generous charitable response on behalf of the less fortunate who frequently are women and children!
My wishes and prayers to you for a Happy Thanksgiving. Give God thanks. Enjoy this great American holiday. I know that I will during my pilgrimage in Rome. God’s blessings be with each of you and your loved ones.