Thanksgiving 2009 draws near and with it our annual need to pause, to reflect and to thank God for His many gifts — and the signs of His goodness to us. As a youngster in grammar school, I was taught that we were blessed to live in this land of plenty. That blessing remains a reason for daily thanks despite political uncertainty, our troops in harm’s way, increasing poverty in our cities and rural areas, senseless acts of violence at home and abroad and a lack of respect for the dignity of every human life. But let’s look at the upside for a moment. In our land of plenty we have political freedom, the right to disagree, assistance for those in need, thousands upon thousands of people who, in a variety of ways, show respect for human life in all its stages and the possibility of health-care legislation that will give benefits while protecting the most defenseless of human beings. The blessings that have been given to us require that we become ever more generous with those who depend upon us.
As I celebrate Mass on Thanksgiving morning and gather with my family later in the afternoon, I will have my own reasons for thankfulness. My blessings include:
•The gift of my family, parents now deceased whose love gave me life and who supported me and my desire to be a priest; my brother and sister who were part of that first household of faith with me; nieces and nephews, great nieces and great nephews, aunts and uncles, relatives and friends who have supported me through the years and always provided a welcoming and affirming presence.
•The gift of my Catholic faith. My faith has been a rich blessing for me from the time of my baptism at St. Joseph’s Church in Buffalo until the present moment. It has given my life meaning and direction. This faith was nurtured at St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore, the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo, St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora and the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. I am grateful for my Catholic education which helped me to grow intellectually and spiritually.
•My call to the priesthood. This has been a blessing — a treasure beyond measure. In the parishes, institutions and offices where I have been privileged to serve I have met dedicated men and women, clergy, religious and lay, who give generously and unselfishly, day in and day out, to further the work of the Church.
•My time in the “north country.” A little more than five years ago it was my privilege to be asked to serve as the Bishop of Ogdensburg. In that beautiful part of the state, I came to know, in new and different ways, the beauty of God’s creation, as I watched the parade of the seasons in the Thousand Islands, throughout the Adirondack Mountains, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, and in the Champlain Valley. Likewise, I came to know its people and to realize and appreciate, in a special way, the long hours and hard work of farming families. Because of them we have special reason to be thankful at this harvest time.
•The call of Pope Benedict XVI to serve the people of Syracuse. It has been a rich blessing to come and live among you for these past six months and to become aware of the depth of your faith and your love for the Church. It will be a special blessing as I celebrate Mass Thanksgiving morning to thank God for all of you and for the opportunity to serve in the Diocese of Syracuse.
I know that each of you have your personal reasons for thankfulness. I hope, as you plan to gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, you will begin the day with the Eucharist … the Mass … the greatest act of Thanksgiving. In this sublime prayer of the Church, thank God for all the blessings that come your way.
Before I became a Bishop, I was privileged to serve as pastor of St. Louis Parish in Buffalo. I leave you with a thought from that great saint: “Give thanks frequently to God for all the benefits He has conferred on you that you may be worthy to receive more.” A blessed Thanksgiving to you and all whom you love!
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse