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This Thanksgiving, are You listening, Lord?

November 27, 2017

(To view this article on northjersey.com, click here)

After a glance at the headline of this essay, you may have:

1) shaken your head (in disbelief or puzzlement);

2) rolled your eyes;

3) muttered (maybe) something under your breath that this publication would not normally print;

4) All of the above.

“What’s he talking about?  It’s Thanksgiving. Of course, God is listening. It’s part of the drill. We pray to the Lord on Thanksgiving, and then we have our meal.”

I am thinking of a scene in the old play, “You Can’t Take It With You.” As the Sycamore family gathers for the evening meal -- a motley crew of blood relatives and assorted misfits -- the family patriarch, Grandpa Vanderhof, thanks God for all that has happened during the day. He ends the prayer with “We have our health, and whatever else, we leave that up to You.”

Thanksgiving may be one of the few times all year when many of us gather as family and friends. We say grace and we thank God for the good things He has given us. However, in our very hectic and increasingly secular society, does it seem that we lose the focus of the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.

Yes, we gather at Thanksgiving, in large or small groups, with family or friends. What draws us? Food? The close camaraderie that stretches through the food, Macy’s parade and as much football as we can endure?

Unlike our northern neighbors, who celebrate Thanksgiving in October, Americans remember the mythical origins of our version of the holiday. Historians say that the first Thanksgiving feast lasted for three days. In attendance were some 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims who, it bears remembering, were recent immigrants to this land. (Imagine if there had been a wall back then.) The religious character of the feast was unmistakable, since everyone at the table thanked God first for survival as well as the modest dose of prosperity that they enjoyed. As they took their seats, the struggle of the past year echoed in their hearts, especially the faces that were not there -- the friends and fellow travelers to their new home, their hoped-for land of opportunity and freedom, who had not survived that first year.

The toils, travail and threats were finally invitations to recognize the gifts, and the harvest carried them to gratitude.

Yes, that was then, and now is now. Few of us face the hardships that the first celebrators experienced, though there are those in northern New Jersey for whom survival is not a done deal. Perhaps they are the most grateful this Thanksgiving.

Back to my opening line: Is God listening to us? 

Someone said that true wisdom is looking at the good in life and remembering whom to thank. With a modicum of that wisdom, I reply, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are listening.”

Speaking for the People of God, I pray at mass: You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name..” 

The Lord is the first and ultimate Welcomer. He gathers a people. He invites them to converse respectfully as they walk toward a common home. Much like the Sycamore family in “You Can’t Take It With You.”

This past weekend, I joined 65,000 others in the football stadium of my birthplace, Detroit, to celebrate the Beatification of Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan friar who died in 1957 at age 86. His holy life was not without challenges. He struggled with seminary studies and endured physical challenges that were the result of childhood illnesses. In his later life, before disease sapped his strength, Blessed Solanus became known for his great compassionate service to the poor and the troubled. People considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings. A quote of Blessed Solanus’ is a perfect focus for our prayer of giving this Thanksgiving: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”

As you gather at your feast this Thanksgiving, say all the “thank-you’s” you should, follow Blessed Solanus’ suggestion, and then leave the rest up to the Lord.