We are already into the month of November. While we do not have the changing of foliage nor the cooler days in our weather, we know that November is here as the daylight hours continue to become shorter. Even though many had anticipated that we would remain on daylight savings time, approval by Congress was not given and so we just turned our clocks one hour back. We also know that November is upon us as so many of the winter residents have returned to Florida and we offer a warm greeting to them. Many of them will not miss the cooler weather they are leaving and may appreciate more the clocks being in sync with their homes in the north.
November is a special month in which we remember those who have gone before us. We began the month with the celebration of the Solemnity of All the Saints on November 1 and the Commemoration of All the Souls on November 2. It is also a special month because we celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of the month. This is a day in which we give thanks to God for our great nation as well as for our family and friends and those who have gone before us. November puts us in touch with the realities that are part of life, each and every day, as well as those which go beyond this life into eternal life.
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving during this month of remembrance, it is a wonderful opportunity to give thanks in a manner that puts us in touch with the very meaning of life. In my previous column, I reflected upon the canonization of St. Pope Paul VI which Pope Francis celebrated on October 14. St. Pope Paul VI gives us a good opportunity to reflect upon remembrance and giving thanks in his very moving final testament which is considered a testimony to his sanctity. He originally handwrote his testament on June 30, 1965, and edited two codicils in 1972 and 1973. Four days after his death on August 10, 1978, his testimony was read to the College of Cardinals.
St. Pope Paul VI joins death and giving thanks in his final testament. He begins by reflecting, "I am fixing my gaze on the mystery of death and of what follows thereafter, in the light of Christ which alone sheds a light upon it; and therefore, with humble and serene confidence. I am deeply aware of the truth, which for me is ever reflected from this mystery on the present life; and I thank the conqueror of death for having dispelled the darkness and revealed the light thereof.” With these initial words commingling with what the month of November involves for us, St. Pope Paul VI then begins recounting the many things for which he was grateful during his life. What he reflects upon are well for us to also reflect upon this month as we prepare to offer our gratitude to God on Thanksgiving.
The first gift for which St. Pope Paul VI gives thanks is for that of life. He proclaims, "Lord, I thank you for having called me to life." Life is a fundamental gift for which we give thanks to God. It was God who chose us to come into existence and the life he has given us is a share in His life. We face many joys and many difficulties in life. However, the gift of life supersedes whatever we face and giving thanks that we share in the life of God is what brings us value, dignity and purpose. On Thanksgiving it is fundamental to give thanks to God for his gift of life.
At the same time that he gives thanks for the gift of life, St. Pope Paul VI gives thanks for his baptism in which he was regenerated and destined for the fullness of life. It is important for us as we give thanks for the gift of life, especially during this month of November, to give thanks that life is meant to go on with God in eternity. Life is not limited to this world but is the beginning of a journey which leads us to the fullness of life in heaven. It is there that every tear and sorrow will be wiped away and we will be united with all those loved ones who have gone before us. At Thanksgiving, we do give thanks to God for being born into a life which is eternal, and we ask that we may always love in a manner that will lead us into it.
St. Pope Paul VI then gives thanks for his parents and for all of his family. He not only thanks God for them but he offers his thanks to them as he states, "I feel obliged to thank and to bless those who were the means of conveying to me the gifts of life received from you O Lord: those who brought me into life (Oh! Blessed be my most worthy parents!), those who educated me, loved me, did good to me, helped me, surrounded me with good examples, with care, affection, trust, goodness, kindness, friendship, fidelity and deference.” How important it is for us to give thanks to God for our family, friends and all those who assist us during life in a manner that makes our life joyful and full. It is also very appropriate at Thanksgiving for us to offer our gratitude to them in a personal way.
As St. Pope Paul VI gives thanks for the blessing of life, his family and the gift of eternal life, he likewise gives thanks for "the higher gift of faith and grace, in which alone at the end of my surviving existence finds refuge." He especially gives thanks for "the ineffable world of the Catholic Church." He realized that it was in the Church that he found meaning in faith and grace through the sacraments. At this time of giving thanks, we do give thanks to God for the gift of His Church. We know that presently we are undergoing very difficult and trying times in the Church. This may understandably cause us to question our faith in the Church and draw some to want to leave it. However, we realize that the Church has gone through many even more difficult times in its history and always perdures because of the promise of Christ. It is through the Church, despite its sins and shortcomings, that Christ comes to us. It is His word, His grace and His healing that we seek. The Church will always be purified through the grace of Christ and we must be instruments of its purification. Therefore, we thank God for the gift of the Church which brings us the Lord and will continue to do so.
St. Pope Paul VI gives thanks for the many years he lived in Rome as his home. At this time of Thanksgiving, it is significant for us to give thanks to God for our great nation. Our nation was founded with the understanding that all men and women are created equal with “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We were founded in order that we might be able to practice our faith without the intrusion of the government. Our nation has been a home to many coming from different countries seeking freedom and a new the way of life. We give thanks to God for our great country and, realizing its faults and defects, do our best to make it the land it was meant to be through our freedom of speech and legal voice. We are blessed to live in this nation and give thanks for it.
As St. Pope Paul VI gives thanks for the blessings of his life, he also asks forgiveness for those he had offended. As we give thanks at this time of year, it is most fitting to reflect upon those we may have hurt in any way and to seek their forgiveness and pardon. It is also a very fitting time for us to pardon those who have harmed us in any way. Thanksgiving and forgiveness are part of the same basic attitude of life which frees us and gives us the peace of the Lord.
At this time of year, during November, as we recall loved ones who have gone before us and as we are joined with them in a very special way through God's kingdom, we give thanks for them. We also give thanks to God for the gift of life which has brought us into existence and in union with all other men and women created in His image and likeness. We are grateful for the blessings of life, our families, our faith and the Church, for the gift of eternal life which we look forward to sharing and for our great nation.
May this be a most blessed time of remembrance and giving thanks!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 9, 2018