A Place, A People, A Faith
How would you like to spend Thanksgiving cruising the Caribbean on a beautiful ship of an award winning cruise line? You will have to sacrifice many of the traditions of the holiday at home: the cold, crisp November air, the preparation of your favorite holiday treats, the family gathered together, football, and other special events. Turkey and all of the trimmings will not be part of that exchange. As a matter of fact, you will enjoy a complete and abundant Thanksgiving dinner without having to serve or to clean up the dishes. Heavenly! Although the wait staff, most likely, will be from an array of countries other than the United States, they do seem to enter into the spirit of the American holiday. In my experience, a significant percentage of the staff hails from the Philippines. They are marvelous in the quality and consistency of the service they provide. On the occasion of my serving as a cruise chaplain, it has been my honor to celebrate Mass for them, as well as other crew members, on Sunday nights.
On the approach of this Thanksgiving, I find myself thoughtful and prayerful as the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan awakens the horrifying memory of the devastation it wrought upon the central Philippines on November 8, 2013. I often wonder how those cheerful, smiling, and caring Filipino crew members were able to maintain their poise through the tragic circumstances back home. I also remember the words of the retired Archbishop of Washington, DC, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick on his visit to the ruined area to inspect the efforts of Catholic Relief Services and to offer his concern and prayers for the suffering and dispossessed of the region: "These poor people have suffered so much, but how wonderful it is that the Lord is there with them and has given them the courage to continue to trust in him. They know that God hasn't deserted them – and they haven't walked away from him. These are a people of wonderful, deep, and strong faith and that's what helps them in these moments." These comments are taken from a beautiful article, We Haven't Forgotten You, by Judy Ball in St. Anthony Messenger (March 2014). Recovery will require more time, more aid, and more prayer, but the people will survive and thrive.
In the Massachusetts autumn of 1621, a gathering of Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag celebrated another instance of survival. The pilgrims and their neighbors came together in a feast that not only celebrated the joy of the harvest season, but also having survived the first, harsh winter in a new land. A little over half of the 102 Pilgrims that disembarked from the Mayflower the year before were still alive. For the survivors, there was cause to celebrate the creation of a new life in a new land. Amidst the joys of the festival, proper thanks was offered to God for the beginning that was made and for the future success of what has been fashioned. In the centuries to follow, the importance of braving the hardships of life and prevailing became a national holiday, a special and a sacred time for giving thanks for life and its abundance to the Author or both.
Thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart, the struggle against the mighty forces of nature still ring with the indefatigable character of the human spirit. Whether it is a forlorn Pilgrim pensive before the grave of a loved one lost to the rigors of a New England winter or a stunned Filipino gazing over the immense devastation that befell his land, the need of God is felt acutely. The stirrings within one's heart that express the hope that God will grant an eternal remedy for the frailties and vulnerabilities of mortal existence. As the sun breaks through the storm clouds, he stands alive and thankful for the gift of life that God has sustained within him.
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Within a Philippine church with a great hole in its roof, Cardinal McCarrick celebrated Mass with and for the suffering multitude of nature's wrath. Faith within a faithful people bristled with perseverance and determination before the great task ahead. There can be no doubt that God will create in them a resolve to rebuild their homes and their lives and an assurance that wells up in a prayer of thanksgiving that only faith can provide. Let us always be a prayerful, thoughtful, and thankful people united in devout faith and human caring.