It is arguable that the great American national holiday of Thanksgiving, which we have just celebrated once again, is actually about many things, admittedly about a lot more than just giving thanks. For most people, probably, it is, first and foremost, about family. It’s no accident that Thanksgiving may be the most travelled holiday of the year. We travel, most of us, to share Thanksgiving Dinner with important people in our lives. The dinner is the occasion for the sharing. But, while the sharing part is key, so certainly is the dinner; and so Thanksgiving is surely also about food. And it’s also – in no particular order - about parades, dog shows, football, and, of course, the beginning of Christmas shopping. All that having been said, still for Americans the 4th Thursday of November remains the pre-eminently privileged day for giving thanks.
Back home in Knoxville from Thanksgiving with my family in California, I am thankful for many things. I give thanks to God, first of all, for the mere fact that I am alive. Making it to 63+ may not seem like the accomplishment it once was, but I know (or, rather, knew) enough people who didn’t make it this far. For all my many health concerns, I am OK – not in the best of shape, by any means, but I’m still standing. And that itself merits a fervent prayer of thanks – maybe even a rousing chorus of Now Thank We All Our God!
I am thankful too for my vocation, for being a priest of the Church, for the joy I experience in celebrating the sacred liturgy and preaching the Good News, for the great privilege priesthood has given me to be a part of the lives of so many people, families, and communities, and for the faith-filled parish communities it has been my privilege to minister in – at St. Peter’s, Toronto, St. Paul the Apostle, New York, and now Immaculate Conception, Knoxville.
I give thanks for my family (both immediate and “extended”) and my friends (both the “faithful friends who are dear to us,” who “gather near to us” as in the familiar Christmas song, and also the distant, more marginal ones, including even all my Facebook “friends”).
In a world which seems so distressed in so many ways, Thanksgiving challenges one to prioritize. In a very different 1st century world (a very different – but certainly also distressed – world), the 3rd Pope, St. Clement the Martyr wrote, in his letter to the Corinthians: “The stronger should care for the weak, and the weak should respect the stronger. The wealthy should give to the poor, and the poor man should thank God that he has sent him someone to supply his needs. The wise should manifest their wisdom not in words but in good deeds, and the humble should not talk about their own humility but allow others to bear witness to it. Since, therefore, we have all this from him, we ought to thank him for it all. Glory to him for ever. Amen.”