Thanksgiving. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving. Although it’s a secular holiday and not a Catholic HOLY DAY, it’s a wonderful day of celebration. In fact, instead of “secular,” meaning “worldly, or “of the world,” which has all sorts of very negative connotations in the Christian context, let’s call it a “cultural holiday.” In that context, it reveals how deeply our culture is influenced by Christianity and how firmly it is rooted in Christian values.
In particular, the Christian virtues of fortitude and diligence (reflected in working hard to provide for oneself and one’s family), and charity (reflected in being willing to share the fruits of one’s labor or good fortune with others), and, of course most importantly and above all, gratitude or thankfulness to God for the gifts he’s given us.
In the end, everything we have is God’s gift. As St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” This, of course, is not at all to discount individual hard work and ingenuity, but rather to realize that whether it’s the skills and talents we have or develop, or the opportunities we make or stumble upon, or the free will we exercise to choose to use and develop all of that, in the end all of that comes to us from God’s generosity and our response thereto. Whether it’s material goods, health, family, love, faith, or human dignity, rights, and liberty, God is the giver of all good things.
Unfortunately, if you watch and listen carefully, you will see that many people today treat Thanksgiving as a holiday to give thanks to one another, with no mention of God at all, or at best, a mention of him as an afterthought. There’s certainly nothing wrong with thanking people around you, but that is not the reason Thanksgiving was established as a national, cultural, holiday. That’s not what it’s about.
As President George Washington decreed on October 3, 1789, as he proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day of the United States:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have …requested me “to recommend …a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God …Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted ….to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks …”
And as President Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1863, as he permanently established the official national holiday:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…”
As the distinction between Christian values and “secular/worldly” values continues to widen, it’s important that we remember to celebrate American cultural holidays in the context of their Christian origins, i.e., as part of America’s historically Christian culture, and not reduce them to the understanding of the ever descending secular culture—a culture that barely recognizes God’s existence, much less His boundless and omnipresent generosity.
“Baby Mary”: Sofi Hill. One thing that I know we’re all unspeakably thankful to God for is the gift of the life of the newborn baby who was left on our property on the morning of November 14th, 2010. I first called her “Baby Mary Madeleine”, but, as you know, the wonderful family that adopted her named her “Sofi.” I received this short note from her family on her 2nd Birthday, and thought I’d share it with you:
“Dear Friends at St. Raymond’s:
“It’s hard to believe that another year has passed! So much has happened this past year and Sofi continues to grow to be a beautiful little girl. Sofi has gone from walking, to running, to jumping now! She has an endless supply of energy that mommy and daddy would love to tap into! She has such a sweet personality and is very good natured and melts the hearts of all who know her. Her favorite songs are, “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, and of course “Jesus Loves Me”. This February Sofi became a big sister as we welcomed Charlotte into this world. Having two daughters is such a blessing and also a whole lot of work. Sofi really does love her little sister. She is very tender and very protective of her. They’re growing up into a fine pair of sisters making each other laugh and occasionally fighting over toys! Sofi loves playing mommy to her baby dolls and has a favorite she’s named “baby Honey”. She’s a great mommy and likes to push Baby Honey in her toy stroller. Sofi also loves going for walks, playing on swings, swimming, and helping mommy to cook. She is a sweet, sweet girl and I constantly marvel at God’s goodness and mercy in bringing Sofi to us.
“We are so blessed and thankful for all of you at St. Raymond’s. Thank you for your continued prayers and love. We treasure them and think about you all often. You’re a gift to us and we treasure you!
“All our Love, “The Hills Family, Mark, Jennifer, Anna Sofi, and Charlotte.”
Advent. Next Sunday, we begin the season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas. Unfortunately the world around us has already begun it’s celebration of its notion of Christmas. This is not a terrible thing, to the extent it reflects the effects of Christianity on our American culture in a tremendously more powerful way even than Thanksgiving. But we must be careful, because so much of this early cultural celebration is being driven and manipulated by the “secular world”—the world that has no use for Christ, except as something to use for its own selfish ends: from the crass commercialization of the holiday to the manipulation of passions and emotions descending to decadence, greed, envy and lust.
So let’s not lose sight of what Advent is about. In this coming week consider carefully how you will spend these 4 weeks, what will you do concretely, as a Christian preparing spiritually and morally to celebrate the true and full meaning of Christmas: the humble birth of God the Son as a human being, Jesus Christ, and so the dawn of our salvation. We’ll discuss this more next Sunday, the 1st of Advent.
Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles