November 21, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Giving and receiving thanks with an attitude of gratitude

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin“Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Traditionally, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and express gratitude in general. While it may have been religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.” (Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia)

November is sometimes called gratitude month. It’s the time of year when we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, a time when we are invited to be grateful for all the gifts we have received from a good and gracious God.

I spent 20 years living in Rome and traveling all over the world on behalf of my religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). Nothing unites Americans abroad more than the annual Thanksgiving celebration. It’s part of our DNA, and no matter where we are in the world, when Thanksgiving Day comes around, we Americans find a way to celebrate!

This year, Thanksgiving Day is observed on Nov. 27. That’s just a few days before the second anniversary of my installation as archbishop of Indianapolis on Dec. 3, 2012. This year, I will be giving thanks for two blessed years here in central and southern Indiana! In a very special way, I will be giving thanks to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who sent me here to serve all God’s people in this historic local Church, and to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who inspires us all to serve as missionary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am also grateful to the people of central and southern Indiana; to my dedicated co-workers at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center and in parishes, schools and archdiocesan agencies in every deanery; to my brother priests and deacons; to my assistant in episcopal ministry, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, and my predecessor in this ministry, Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, O.S.B. All have shown me what Hoosier hospitality truly means, and I am grateful.

I hope that you can enjoy this very special time of year—surrounded by your family and friends! Holidays can be hard times for people who are in poor health, who are homeless or who are experiencing emotional or financial difficulties. Let’s be sure to pray for those who are less fortunate than we are, and let’s help them in every way we can this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, not a religious holy day, the encyclopedia says. That’s technically true, but for those of us who are believers, it is impossible to express “gratitude in general.” Our thanks go to the God who created us and who sustains us by his grace. We Christians believe that this God is a person who knows us individually, and who cares about each one of us. When we give thanks to him, it is always an intimate and personal thing.

We Catholics celebrate the holy Eucharist (whose name comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving) every day, but on this day, Thanksgiving, we give special thanks to God for all his abundant blessings. That includes the gift of life itself, our parents and families, the love that we share with spouses and children, our friends, our freedom as Americans, our vocations as disciples of Jesus Christ, our material possessions, our intellectual gifts and talents, and much, much more.

Gratitude is a powerful virtue. It opens our hearts to the healing power of God’s grace. It helps us look beyond our own selfish wants and fears to the gifts we receive from others, and to the opportunities we have to share with others and to return thanks to God for all that he has generously given to us.

If God can thank us, and forgive us, in spite of our selfishness and sin, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Shouldn’t we have the faith and the courage to look beyond our own needs and wants and fears to the gifts we have received from God and from so many others?

When you go to Mass this weekend, say a special word of thanks to God for all his blessings. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the people in your life who have shared their gifts with you. Say a prayer of contrition for your sins, and ask for the grace to forgive those who have harmed you in any way.

For us, Thanksgiving is not just a secular holiday. It is a moment of grace for all of us who have been blessed by God to say thank you. May we thank God always for his goodness to us! May our hearts be filled to overflowing with gratitude for all the gifts we have received from a loving and generous God.

Happy Thanksgiving! †

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