There is a very humorous cartoon of a Pilgrim husband and wife speaking to each other as they walk away by themselves from the first Thanksgiving feast. The wife says to her husband, "That was nice, but I wouldn’t want to make it a regular thing!" Well, the Thanksgiving feast in our nation, from its very simple beginnings, has become not only a "regular thing" but one of the great celebrations of our country. Thanksgiving is a day to get together with our families and to give thanks to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us in this nation and in our lives. Our nation celebrates this feast together as we join as one family across the country. It is a holiday based on the Pilgrims’ giving thanks to God for surviving an extremely difficult time so that they could worship God freely in the new world. It is a holiday based on the Pilgrims’ physical suffering and their survival of it. It is a holiday based on the bounty of our land and of the Native Americans of this country sharing it with us. This "regular thing" has grown over the years taking on many new customs. As we know it today with the traditional turkey dinner, gatherings to watch football and enjoying the many parades around the nation, Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, challenges us and gives us much to reflect upon. The Pope continually reminds us of the poor and hungry within our world and reminds us of our responsibility to reach out to them. As Americans, we know that the poor, hungry and homeless are among us in our very nation. While we can live somewhat comfortable lives and others even more so, there are those in the world and in our country who live not only less than comfortable lives but miserable ones as well. Thanksgiving reminds us that we do have much to be thankful for to God for the bounty He has bestowed upon us. It also reminds us that we must be keenly sensitive to those who do not have this bounty which many times we can take for granted.
The Pope reminds us that we live in a "throwaway culture." By that he means one in which many get used to being comfortable and when they are not they look for something new to make them comfortable. They literally throw away what has become too common for them including life itself as well as all of the elements which go into making life worthwhile such as family and friends. I am sure many of us remember our mothers telling us to eat all the food on our plate because there were children in the world who were going to bed hungry while we were not happy with the food before us. These wise women had a good sense of what a “throwaway culture” is all about and tried to lead us from it. Unfortunately, the throwaway culture has become even more critical as the unborn, the elderly, a difficult marriage, a fragile friendship and many other things are thrown out to be replaced by novelty. At the same time that poverty and injustice increase so does the attitude of a “throwaway culture” which many times causes that poverty and injustice. Because a “throwaway culture” is becoming a “regular thing” so is poverty and injustice which are ignored by it. In a recent talk to members of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis, reiterating much of his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, emphasized that land, shelter and work are sacred rights and that we must strive to work against the structural causes of poverty and inequality and confront what he called an "empire of money."
Thanksgiving is a time which we spend with our families. Pope Francis is truly challenging us in regard to the importance of marriage and family life. This has been one of the main emphases of his teaching. We must do all we can to strengthen family life as a gift from God which is a reflection of the very life of God Himself. However, because of the "throwaway culture" in which we live, many of the basic values of family are threatened. The recent Synod on the Family which concluded in Rome reminded us of many of the difficulties which families face today.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving and the coming holidays, the impression is given that there is such a thing as the perfectly happy family and when we realize that family is not our own we can become discouraged. Many people find the holiday times to be depressing ones because of this without even realizing the reason for their uneasiness. We do give thanks to God for the gift of our families and especially at Thanksgiving we come together with them to share the gracious goods which God has bestowed upon us. However, it is also a time for us to realize that there is no perfect family and we all must work together to strengthen our families and to be more understanding of their shortcomings and failures. Pope Francis speaks often of the difficulties that exist in marriage and family life. He describes situations of couples arguing sometimes in an angry manner. However, he stresses that no day should go by when a couple does not try to reconcile themselves with each other even in the face of arguments and disagreements. He reminds us that the words, “please, thank you and sorry” are the foundation of marriage and family life. When we celebrate Thanksgiving, we celebrate the gift of our humanity but that humanity is a broken one. Let us give thanks to God for the gift of our families and do the best we can to change ourselves and not others to make those families better.
Thanksgiving reminds us that God has given us many gifts within this great country. He wants us to enjoy them but He also wants us to share them with others. Thanksgiving truly is a "regular thing" going back to the first celebration of the Pilgrims and Native Americans. However, we realize that at the time of the first Thanksgiving we were the immigrants in this country. Thanksgiving is also a time for us to open our arms to our brothers and sisters who have come to this country seeking a better way of life just as the Pilgrims did and many in our families have as well.
May God bless all of you and your families as we celebrate Thanksgiving and look to Him with gratitude for all He has given us. I especially give thanks to Him for the gift of this wonderful Diocese and for the joy of knowing all of you. Let us never be discouraged by what we do not have but always encouraged by what we do have. Thanksgiving has become a "regular thing" because of difficult times. May we always rely upon the grace of God which will always overcome those difficulties if we turn to Him.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 24, 2014