This week I am at my first in-person meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) since my ordination some 27 months ago. I suspect it may be one of the longest intervals between ordination as a bishop and meeting one’s brother bishops. It will certainly be a totally new experience for me. I look forward to the opportunity to getting to know other U.S. bishops during this week of prayer for and discussion of matters facing the Church in the United States today. In a future column, hopefully I can share with you my impressions of my first national meeting as a bishop.
I am also conscious that this is my last column before we celebrate our national feast of Thanksgiving next week and enter one of my favorite liturgical seasons, Advent. I think I have mentioned before that Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holidays for family gatherings. I know this year that my mother’s physical presence will be missed at the table, but I can only truly thank God for His provident care and the solicitude of family and nursing staffs that made her last days on earth so loving and peaceful. In turn, I am grateful also to God for the gift of perseverance he has given to my father in the midst of adversity and for my siblings and their spouses who have been so generous in their attentiveness to him.
The story of Thanksgiving Day in this nation arises from moments of hardship whether referring to the harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag nation or of the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War period or to the present-day observance established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 during a period of world war and economic instability. In all these circumstances, we are reminded of the words of Psalm 145:“Every day I will bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and highly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. … Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom and speak of your might” (vss. 2-3 & 10-11).
Even more our Thanksgiving celebration is a natural segue into the Season of Advent and the beginning of a new year of grace. While giving thanks to “the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth” (see Sirach 50:22a), we are directed also to the source of our feasting:
“The dawn in time of the fullness of time, the entrance into history of the goal of history, the appearance in one man of the ultimate future of all” (Patrick Regan, OSB). Our gathering in thanksgiving is a precursor for “the future full of hope” (see Jer 29:11) that is heralded in our Advent and Christmas celebrations. Appropriately, our diocesan focus within our offices and departments for Advent this year will be: “We wait in joyful hope.”
The coming liturgical year will focus on the writings of St. Luke, both his Gospel narrative and the Acts of Apostles, which is just about one quarter of the New Testament. The Gospel of St. Luke is my favorite Gospel and is often referred to as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” In its very first chapter, one finds the breath of God announcing and producing a “second” creation story for the human family. In this story, we encounter the immediacy of our God. God meets us where we are at and literally walks with us in the garden of life again, all the while inviting us to “rejoice in God my Savior” (Lk 1:47) and to consider “in him whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
This movement of God towards you and me is why now is an appropriate time to make a new year’s resolution regarding our spiritual lives. It may be that some of us could be more faithful in participating in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. It could be that one has been away from the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) for too long and now would be a great time to return to its practice—the annual “The Light is on for You” will be on Monday, Dec. 20, in our parishes. For others, myself included, it might be that our daily spiritual exercises need to be more regular and consistent. Whether it be taking time for Daily Mass or the Rosary or Eucharistic Adoration or reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture or it may be just sitting quietly with God and Jesus in prayer or doing some spiritual reading; what will aid our spiritual health and our overall well-being is to make this part of our lives a priority.
As we prepare now for our holiday gatherings, let us not forget the most important part of our feasting—our God and our neighbor. Again, this year, despite the challenges we have faced in Church and society, I continue to give thanks to God for the gift the Diocese of Syracuse is to me; and for the rich blessing I have of such fine and gifted collaborators in ministry, along with all who seek to be sons and daughters of encouragement to those who labor in the vineyard. I continue to seek to make our parishes places where all are welcome and wherein all can find their home in God. As one religious sister reminds me: “God has no favorites.” Each one of us is favored by God; and in thanksgiving, let us not forget to return the favor to those whom we encounter on the road of life. Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you and to your loved ones!
And we pray:
Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.