November 2007 - Volume 12, Issue 4
This month our country will celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving. And it should be an individual reminder to each one of us how grateful we should be for the country that God has allowed us to live in. One of the most repeated poems concerning Thanksgiving goes something like this:
"There was a time when faith began to slip, when
I had lost all that I could afford to lose, I had no
home, I had no shoes, I had no food and then suddenly
I felt ashamed for I who talked of shoes then chanced
to meet upon the busy highway of life a man who had
"I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet" should be a reminder to every American Catholic of the generosity that God has given us during the course of our lives.
If you study the Gospels quite closely, you might remember the story of the ten lepers. These were ten people who were the outcasts of society who were in need of help. Christ came to them, He spoke to them, He healed them. All ten walked away, then one returned to give Him thanks. Could that ever be applied to us that God gives us ten benefits during the course of our lives and nine out of ten times we walk away?
I remember one of the most vivid Thanksgiving experiences I ever had in my priesthood took place in a school in North Hampton, Massachusetts. It was a school formed and established by Grace Coolidge, the wife of the former president. The entire study body was made up of students who were either blind or deaf or dumb. It was painful for me to watch these young students walking across the campus with the help of a seeing eye dog. It was also painful for me in talking to the deaf through a translator to convey the message of the Gospel. And just painful to listen to those deprived of the gift of speech trying by means of sign language to convey the thoughts in their mind. I left that school shortly after Thanksgiving and then went throughout various parts of the country preaching and lecturing. One lesson I derived from that school was how many times do we take the gift of eyesight for granted? How about the gift of speech and the gift of hearing? We are always asking God to bless America, but when you look at how many of the gifts God has given to us are being abused by the American Catholic. When you look at how pornography through the internet is a multi-billion dollar business. Do you really think those who watch it appreciate the gifts of sight that God has given to them?
Now on televisions shows or even movies, you hear the most foul and rancid language. Do you really think those people who use that kind of language appreciate the gift of speech that God has given to us? We cannot go on year after year thinking that it is okay for others to experience tragedies and not us. We hear about the terrible poverty in Darfur. We know that in this world of ours over 800 million people earn a salary of less than $400 a year. What we are worried about is trivial compared to the pain others are experiencing.
When I had the television mass for 22 years on channel 9, we would get thousands of letters from elderly mothers and fathers, happy the holidays were over because of the arguments and the yelling and screaming that took place during a Thanksgiving holiday. What sort of people are we becoming when we can ignore our own flesh and blood, when we can be insensitive to the flesh and look of the people in Haiti and other abject poverty regions of the world? We can read about Katrina victims even as of today and still feel the government or the state will take care of them or the church will take care of them and I don't have to do anything because I am so busy. Isn't in the New Testament that Christ reminds us we are our brothers keeper? That we have to share the benefits that we have received and others have been denied. How much is enough for all of us? How long are we going to have these unrealistic expectations that we should always receive more benefits than those people who are living in the poorest section of any city, those people who will be lucky if someone sends a Thanksgiving turkey to them?
Gratitude is the virtue not of the future. Gratitude should be the virtue of today. We have to be the one that reaches out to those in want and need even if nine others ignore them. We have to be the one to imitate the generosity of Christ. The same Christ who reminded us, "when I was hungry you gave me to eat; thirsty you gave me to drink and naked you clothe me". We cannot just sit back and make this just a yearly gesture at Thanksgiving and forget that the rest of the year these people are often living from hand to mouth. Recently we did a radio program with a missionary from Haiti and he told us the norm is that if the adults have a modest meal every other day, they consider themselves fortunate.
Thanksgiving is a time to remind us how fortunate we are and to examine our conscience to see if we can reach out just a little bit more to those who have less and who are in great want and need. Remember the story that preceded the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof? It was a story in the form of a fable of a young man talking to his Jewish grandfather and he was saying, "but pops, I don't have all that my confrères and peers have, I don't have the home in East Hampton, I don't have a home in Florida, I can't take their elaborate vacations". And the Jewish grandfather listened to his Jewish grandson who by the way was quite successful and the Jewish grandfather says, "my son, thank God for what you have today. God never promises anyone tomorrow".
For all of us on this Thanksgiving, we wish everyone to have a happy Thanksgiving, but we also have to remind ourselves to thank God for what we have today. God never promises anyone tomorrow.
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