The month of November is already upon us. Many of our winter residents have returned to southern Florida and we offer a warm welcome to them. With the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays quickly coming, November has a different sense and pace to it. The month began with the celebration of the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls and will conclude with Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Advent season.
In his address to Congress in September, Pope Francis praised the spirit of the American people which can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward. In doing so he made reference to that spirit found in several Americans marking significant anniversaries this year. One of them he referred to was Abraham Lincoln whose 150th anniversary of assassination occurs this year. Pope Francis lauded Lincoln as a "guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that 'this nation, under God, (might) have a new birth of freedom.' " Certainly, Lincoln is a renowned figure in American history and one who has a great deal to say to us in regard to real freedom and the living of our faith. He also is one who has a special significance during the month of November.
It was during this month of November that Abraham Lincoln took a journey from Washington, DC, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to participate in a dedication ceremony for a National Cemetery at the site of a Civil War battlefield. He traveled by an indirect route taking two trains and six hours to arrive, giving him much time to reflect upon the ordeal the nation was going through. At Gettysburg, on November 19, 1863, over 150 years ago this month, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous but briefest speeches in our nation's history – the Gettysburg Address. Within the passing of two minutes, Lincoln left a lasting impression which has endured to this day. The Gettysburg Address is a perfect example of the spirit of Lincoln to which Pope Francis referred in his address to Congress. It also speaks to the mood of November which reminds us that while we are involved in many things during our lives, our purpose in this life looks forward to new life and to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a major battle during the Civil War which helped the United States to win the war. More soldiers died than in any other battle in our nation’s history. It was fought in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee and the Union soldiers led by General George Meade. It ended as a major victory for the north and for the cause of freedom within our nation. The abolition of slavery brought about through the outcome of the Civil War speaks for the equality of all men and women as well as the need to ensure that nothing lessens human dignity in the face of so many possible deterrents.
The Gettysburg Address deals with a finality that brings new purpose. Lincoln was to dedicate "a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so the nation might live." However, the deceased were to continue the mission for which they gave their lives through those who would follow them. Lincoln eloquently stated words that remain etched in our nation’s history: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that course for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain." Certainly Lincoln's words speak to the need to protect the freedom and dignity of every person as well as for the purpose for which this nation came into existence.
Lincoln never intended his words to be a homily or a reminder to us as Christians of what the finality of all Saints Day and All Souls Day which we just commemorated is all about. Yet how fitting are his words for us traveling through this life to the Kingdom of Heaven with the commitment that we must love all men and women as did Jesus Christ. What the Saints accomplished in their lives on earth is still unfinished. They have built up God's Kingdom and their lives have left visible signs of a better world in which we now live due to their efforts and the grace of God. Nevertheless, their earthly days are over and now they live in the fullness of God's Kingdom beckoning us on our journey through our remaining days. It is now for us to be dedicated to their task of building up God's Kingdom which recognizes the equality of all men and women and the dignity which is conferred upon them by God. This freedom and dignity extends from the moment of conception in a mother's womb to the final breath which the person takes in departing from this life to life eternal. We are all called to be saints and the spirit of November reminds us of this. However, sanctity comes about by living our lives fully in this world and journeying forward with a purpose that is joyful.
The month of November will conclude with the celebration of Thanksgiving. On this national holiday we give thanks to God for the many blessings He has given to us in this country so rich in resources and freedom. As Pope Francis reminded us of the tremendous gift of freedom which we possess and for which we should be thankful, he also reminded us that we must not permit anything to interfere with the freedom and dignity of life. He reminded us of “our responsibility to protect human life at every stage of its development.”
While Thanksgiving was celebrated from the birth of our nation at different times and occasions, it was Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, who establish Thanksgiving Day as a formal and regular holiday at the end of November. Indeed, November truly gives rise to reflecting on what the meaning of life is all about and to reflecting upon the gift of eternal life which follows.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 6, 2015