Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you all abundantly. Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for. In spite of all that we suffer from – individually and as a community – it remains true that we are very blessed in our little corner of the world, and that our blessings outweigh our concerns and failings. To whom, then, shall we give our thanks?
In our consumerist and materialist culture, Thanksgiving is scarcely understood. It has become a day for family and feasting, but not for gratitude or generosity. It looks forward, not to Advent and the coming of Christ, but to Black Friday and materialist self-indulgence. And the one to whom we give our thanks is, therefore, utterly forgotten.
It is, of course, God to whom we owe our gratitude, the God who is the unique source of all our blessings, the creator and giver of all good things which we desire and hold dear. Thanksgiving may be a civil holiday, but God is not absent from our civil society. If we find there various goods which we find right and needful and hope to preserve for our children and grandchildren, it is only from God’s goodness that they derive. And if we find there certain injustices which we imagine we must resist, it is only from God’s justice that we can discover they are wrong and find the resolution to confront them.
That we set aside this day as a nation to give thanks to God for all his blessings has always seemed to me to be one of the best parts of our shared history and identity. It corresponds to the call to love God above all, in acknowledging and thanking his beneficence, and to the demand to love neighbor, in the generous response to another’s need that flows naturally from authentic gratitude.
As Catholics, we are in a position to recognize that every day possesses this Thanksgiving dynamic. Yes, it is good to be called back to it, especially in civil society, every year. But every day, Christ comes to us in the Holy Eucharist, our eternal and perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy and salvation. We need not attend daily Mass to have this presence consciously enthroned in our minds and hearts, nor to be inspired to greater love of God and neighbor by its supersubstantial reality.
Doesn’t it follow from this, that the way we as Catholics celebrate Thanksgiving ought to be distinctive? If most people around us celebrate without reference to God, we can offer the quiet and humble example of our generous prayers. If most people seem devoted to merely material pursuits this weekend, perhaps we can offer the quiet example of sharing our time, instead of only our money. If most people seem to become more irritable and exhausted by their holiday activities, we can offer the joyful example of being filled with Christ’s love.
And if we simply must shop, I beg you, remember that the person who works on Thanksgiving weekend probably has little control over their schedule and would much rather be at home with their family than waiting on Your Grumpiness. Give witness to Christ by being patient and polite.
I pray that all of you will have a safe, happy, and restful holiday, filled with grace and peace from Christ. I pray for your families, and especially for those who will travel, and those who are ill. Please continue to pray for each other, for all our priests, and for me, that I may lead you home to Christ together.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City