I write from a breathtakingly beautiful part of the United States of America, a little town called Snoqualmie Pass, located in the State of Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. My wife and I received a gift this year from our oldest son and his wonderful wife, our daughter in law. It was somewhat hard to receive at first. This is the first time in 34 years of marriage, and the raising of five children and six grandchildren, that we have not hosted the traditional Thanksgiving Feast in our own home.
They paid for our plane tickets to come and spend this Holiday with their family. They want us to be with them and delight in their beautiful children- two of our six grandchildren. They did so because they love us. That is what happens with love, you just want to give it away. We are seldom able to be with them due to geographical separation, but on this Thanksgiving, we have received their family as a gift and a reminder of what life is really all about, loving and being loved.
Surrounding me as I write is the utter grandeur of Washington’s snow capped mountains. Frankly, the beauty has enhanced my prayer and drawn me to my knees from the moment we arrived.How can anyone look at a mountain range and not worship? Only the Divine Artist could paint such a landscape and give it to us to receive. Beauty is a path to Beauty.
On the ground is something we rarely see in Southeastern Virginia, a pristine blanket of snow. It reminds me of the beautiful line from the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.” (Is. 1:18) This is the greatest of gifts, freedom from the wounds and impediments caused by our own sins; freedom to become the men and women the Lord wants us to become and to find the fullness of joy that comes from living in Him.
My oldest son and I just returned from shopping for the turkey – which my wife, best friend, best mother and greatest grandmother in the world will soon cook. As we shopped, I was impressed with the special and spiritual nature of this “secular” Holiday in the United States. In a Nation which embraces so many different cultures and religious traditions,
Thanksgiving brings us all together. It seems to bind us together as Americans in a special way, as we respond to its invitation to give Thanks. One person after another greeted us at the grocery store with the salutation “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” The United States of America is not unique in this. Other Nations certainly pause to give thanks.
However, even in the midst of the struggles we have faced in the United States, we really do need to stop and give thanks! We are a truly blessed people.
This is the first time in 34 years we have not hosted of this celebration. I am having quite a response emotionally, thinking about all of our children, grandchildren and all of these years. I suppose I am just feeling a bit sentimental. It is a prerogative of aging, so bear with me. When we strip away everything, it really just comes down to love.
Chiara Lubich was the beloved foundress of the Focolare movement, one of a growing number of ecclesial movements flourishing within the Catholic Church. The modern Pope’s have called these predominantly lay movements the “finger of God” for this new missionary age. They are what the late Servant of God John Paul II and his successor Benedict has call the “signs of a springtime of world missions.”
Chiara was born on January 22, 1920 and went home to the Lord on March 14, 2008. Those who knew her say that she lived her life animated by love and in a constant attitude of thanksgiving. Inspired by her heroic virtue, men and women were drawn closer to Jesus Christ and, in Him, into a deep relationship with one another to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus. This movement spread to more than 180 countries and had 140,000 members and 2.1 million affiliates at the time of her death. She was 88 years young, still in love with Jesus and filled with joy.
It was Chiara’s intimate relationship with the Lord which gave her the grace to love as He loves. It was also the source of her continual gratitude. It can be just that way with each one of us. That is really what this Holiday invites us to consider. A readiness to give thanks in all circumstances – and for everything and everyone – is a sign of holiness in the lives of so many of the great saints and heroes of the Christian tradition.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to share a few of Chiara’s words as a gift for our readers:
“Yes, love makes us be. We exist because we love. If we don’t love, and every time we don’t love, we are not, we do not exist. There’s nothing left to do but to love, without holding back. Only in this way will God give himself to us and with him will come the fullness of his gifts.
“Let us give concretely to those around us, knowing that by giving to them we are giving to God. Let’s give always; let’s give a smile, let’s offer understanding, and forgiveness. Let’s listen, let’s share our knowledge, our availability; let’s give our time, our talents, our ideas, our work; let’s give our experience, our skills; let’s share our goods with others so that we don’t accumulate things and everything circulates.
“Our giving opens the hands of God and He, in his providence, fills us with such an abundance that we can give again, and give more, and then receive again, and in this way we can meet the immense needs of many.”
This beautifully simple yet profound truth was also regularly expressed by the late Servant of God John Paul II. In his 1979 Encyclical Letter “The Redeemer of Man” he put it this way:
“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself”. If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly “expressed” and, in a way, is newly created.” (Par. 10)
The Feast we celebrate in the “secular” arena today, Thanksgiving Day, reveals that there really is no separation between the secular and the spiritual. After all, God is the Creator of all and the Author of life. He is also the source of all that is good – whether He is acknowledged to be so or not. As the beloved disciple John said “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” (1 John 1:4-7)
We will love today. We will reach out to one another and to the less fortunate. When we choose to love, we participate in the love of God. This is true even those who do not – yet – acknowledge Him. We will give thanks today, for all the great gifts we have received. As we do, we draw His presence more deeply into our daily life together. Love and gratitude are the keys to unlock the deeper meaning of life and the true goodness of this day.
The smell of turkey will soon fill this home, this domestic church into which our oldest son, his wife and their young family have invited us. It arises from the early preparation of the gravy and dressing. This year, our other grown children will gather without us. However, they will gather as a family, at the home of one of our beautiful daughters, her husband, and three of our other grandchildren. Thanksgiving is a day for family.
She will make the meal, using her mother’s recipes, and adding her own. The table will soon be set for the Feast. And what a wonderful Feast it is – this unique American celebration called Thanksgiving. It is a rather extraordinary tradition. An entire Nation, in the beauty of all of its rich diversity and pluralism, pauses as one – to love and to give thanks for all of our blessings and our bounty.
We gather to express our gratitude for our health, our happiness and our life together. Around tables throughout America, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will gather with mothers and fathers, Grandpas and Grandmas, extended family, neighbors and friends to thank God and one another. And then, we all feast; not only on the food, but even more importantly, on the gift of the love which informs all family relationships and true friendships, the real source of lasting joy.
As Chiara Lubich, John Paul II and now Pope Benedict remind us, we were indeed made for love. It is no accident that the first encyclical letter authored by Benedict XVI is entitled “God is Love.” Love is the very meaning of life and loving is the very essence of what it means to be a human person.
Love will call us to share our stories in countless homes throughout the United States and abroad this Thanksgiving day. Even the times that seemed so painful and difficult when lived in love, take on new beauty. Time has a way of revealing the mysterious plan of a loving God who was at work – not in spite of those problems but through them – drawing us closer to Him, to each other and to what really matters most in life.
On this “secular” holiday, infused as it is with such profoundly religious meaning, Catholic Christians should remember that the Greek word from which we derive the word “Eucharist” is rendered “Thanksgiving” in English.
How appropriate. In that Sacrament of Sacraments, we receive Jesus Christ in His fullness, the greatest gift of the Father. And, we are called to give thanks. In the words of the Apostle Paul to the early Christians we are reminded to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) One of the ways Christians do this is to become people who choose to live our lives for others.When we give thanks we learn to love.
Today the Church calls her faithful sons and daughters to give thanks in her Liturgy. St. Teresa was fond of saying “We will not learn how to love if we are not grateful.” The Readings for the Mass for Thanksgiving call us to gratitude. Jesus, in His Sacred humanity shows us how to live a life of gratitude and, through the gift of Himself – makes it all possible.
Pope John Paul II affirmed in a message he gave on July 29, 1987, “In the truest sense we can say that the prayer of the Lord and his entire earthly existence become a revelation of the fundamental truth: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17). Thanksgiving is the source of all blessings from on high. ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God’ is (the) invitation the Church places at the centre of the Eucharistic liturgy.”
Cultivating a disposition of gratitude and a way of living our lives in love for others – such as what was demonstrated in the lives of Chiara Lubich, the Venerable John Paul II and now in the life of Pope Benedict XVI – is the key to living our earthly lives to the full. It also prepares us for eternity. We will be reminded again in the prayer of the priest in the Preface of the Mass for Thanksgiving Day:
“Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. We offer you, Father, this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the gifts you have granted us. Help us to recognize them as the benefits we have received from you through no merit of our own” (Prayer over the Gifts)
Let us choose to make this prayer our own today. Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers, may it be a day for love and gratitude. No matter how difficult the challenges we face, we have so very much to be grateful for. As we give thanks, we find the strength we need to love even more fully.
As we give thanks, we discover how to be faithful to our call to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate, in an age hungering for the fullness of God’s love. Christians are called to take the kernel which lies at the heart of this Holiday and plant it in the field of the world; so that it can bear the fruit which it points toward. We are called to give thanks and we are called to love with the very Love of God in which all human love is revealed and through which all human love is perfected.