Thanksgiving falls very late this year. Since the first day of November fell on a Friday, the fourth Thursday of the month, November 28, is as late as Thanksgiving can be. The weekend of Thanksgiving coincides with the first Sunday of Advent. It is fitting that as we bring the liturgical year to a close in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we begin a new year in the same spirit of Thanksgiving.
Each year as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we recall the many blessings which God has bestowed upon us. Certainly the blessings of family, friends and health come to mind. Each of us knows the particular blessings for which we are grateful each year. We also know that there are many difficulties that come into our lives such as loss of loved ones, misunderstandings and illness. As we give thanks to God for our blessings, we realize it is only with His grace that we are able to deal with such difficulties. A realization of God's love for us is what enables us to see the brightness of things even in darkness.
St. Paul often encourages us to give thanks even in difficult times. His words, "Dedicate yourself to thankfulness" (Col 3:15), are good ones to keep before us at Thanksgiving and as we begin the season of Advent. By dedicating ourselves to thankfulness, we make a concentrated effort to look for the blessings that are always before us rather than concentrating on the negative aspects which are part of our life. Many times, it is not easy to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness and requires constant attention. However, by doing so, we find a greater joy in the blessings that God has given to us and a greater freedom in the difficult situations in our lives over which we have no control.
When St. Paul exhorts us to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness, these words must always be seen in their full context - "Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well that you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward" (Col 3:17; 23 -24). By concentrating on Christ, we are able to put all of our lives in proper perspective and in this manner thankfulness flows from our hearts more easily. The Lord is always with us. He became one of us, taking our human nature to Himself, and giving His life on the Cross in order that we might have life. We are never alone or by ourselves. He is with us and brings good even out of our most difficult times. It is only by looking directly to Him that we find the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
The season of Advent is a time which reminds us of Christ's presence among us. During the days of Advent, we prepare to celebrate His birth in a spirit of hope and anticipation. All during the season of Advent, the Lord reminds us to watch and look for Him. He speaks of His coming at the end of the ages when all things will be transformed through Him and every tear and sorrow will be wiped away. However, He also speaks of His coming to us each and every day of our lives. Often we want to meet the Lord and be touched by His loving presence but get so caught up in many things that we do not see Him before us. He is present to us in our families, our friends, our joys, the beauty of His creation, in the work He has given us to do and especially in the Eucharist, the Sacraments and His Word. A thankful heart is attuned to this presence and always eager to find it.
The Lord is also present to us in the difficult times of our lives. We do not have to go looking for suffering as many times it comes to us as part of life. However, it is accepting this suffering, as best as we can, knowing that the Lord is with us, that makes it bearable. At these times, we do not give thanks to the Lord for the suffering but we give thanks to Him that He is present to us in it through His own suffering on the Cross. It is only in this spirit that we are able to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness and find a freedom in the Lord which comes from no other place.
We must never forget that, while others are instruments for us to encounter the Lord, we also are instruments of the Lord's Presence to others. Our own openness to the Lord gives others the opportunity to find Christ in us. Our own spirit of thankfulness is truly a means of bringing Christ to others and putting into practice the words of St. Paul, "whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The Lord uses us as the vehicles of His presence which brings a joy to others as well as to ourselves.
At this time of Thanksgiving, we truly give thanks to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us. We need to concentrate on these blessings and not on what we do not possess. At the same time, in a spirit of Thanksgiving, we need to see that even in what we do not possess we have reason to be thankful. It is Christ who is at the center of our lives and it is He who fills us with His life. The season of Advent offers us a wonderful opportunity to seek Christ around us each day, giving thanks to God for His presence among us, even when we encounter difficulty. It is also time for us to be the instruments of His presence for others.
Happy Thanksgiving to all! A joyful Advent to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 22, 2013