The month of November opens with our celebration of the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls. It more or less closes when families gather to celebrate our great national feast of Thanksgiving. In between, there are days of warmth and sunshine as well as cold gray days that remind us of the approaching winter.
This month of Thanksgiving holds special memories for all of us who call the Diocese of Syracuse “home.” We gathered as a family on Nov. 6 and offered our great act of Thanksgiving — the sacrifice of the Mass — to celebrate our 125th Anniversary. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “The Christian people, in giving thanks to God through the Eucharist, should be conscious that they do so in the name of all creation, aspiring to the sanctification of the world and working intensely to that end.” (The Sacrament of Charity, #92)
Following the Mass, many gathered at the Oncenter to continue our celebration and to reminisce. No such occasions are possible without turning back the pages in the family album. As the psalmist reminds us, “I thought of the days long ago and remembered the years long past.” (Ps 77) This happened on Sunday as the parade of parishes recalled for us the rich history we share. We witnessed the tapestry of faith that has been woven into the bone and marrow of our daily lives. We remembered those early members of the local church — clergy, religious and lay — who built the firm foundation on which our diocese rests today. It is a house built on solid ground.
Today we are the living stones that build this local church into the holy temple of God. Our celebration on Nov. 6 testified to the vibrancy of faith in our parish communities. As I looked at the assembly gathered in the Cathedral for Mass and visited with the many who attended the reception after Mass, I thought of the many people throughout all the towns, villages and cities that make up this local church: the children and young people in our schools and faith formation programs who are especially close to my heart; married couples living out their commitment — in good times and challenging times — as loving spouses and friends of the Lord; the elderly who often experience loneliness and ill health in their final years. I thanked God for all of them and for all of you. We are all one in Christ. The faith that we treasure has been passed on from generation to generation in times no less challenging than our own. Just as those who have gone before us were steadfast, so too thousands of people today continue to build up the Body of Christ into the living temple of God.
The challenges we face as Church should not blind us to the many gifts that God has given us, individually and as a faith community. Gratitude, the memory of the heart, should characterize our daily lives. Gratitude is a virtue of which St. Paul constantly speaks and encourages us to cultivate: “Dedicate yourself to thankfulness. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:14-17) When we recognize the gifts that God bestows so lavishly, we become more aware of our dependency upon Him. This awareness compels us to praise and thank God for all He has given us.
This Thanksgiving Day will be different for me. Rather than celebrating Mass at the Cathedral and later joining family and friends for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I will be in Rome. Together with the other bishops of New York State I will be making the traditional “Ad Limina” visit to our Holy Father and to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I will leave Nov. 22 and return on Dec. 1. During that period of time, I assure you that you will all be held especially close in prayer. I look forward to an opportunity of telling the Holy Father about the strong faith of the people of this local church, your willingness to join with him in proclaiming the Gospel and your zeal in reaching out to those in need. I will assure him of your affectionate loyalty and loving obedience. I will thank him for his service to the universal Church and for being an inspiration to us as he carries out his demanding ministry.
May I ask, too, for your kindness in remembering me in your prayers at this time. I rely upon your prayers so that the pilgrimage will be a spiritual benefit for me and for all whom I am privileged to serve. Pray, too, that we all travel safely to and from the Eternal City. I look forward to telling you more about the visit in a future column.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.