Greetings of Christ’s peace and love!
Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, a time when our nation observes a holiday to give thanks to God. Traditionally, we celebrate it in a spirit of gratitude by going to church and offering prayers of thanks for the blessings that our country and we have received from God, coupled by the sharing of a meal in fellowship with family and friends. As years have gone by, the holiday has been transformed, its essence has been eroded and commercialized. Sadly, its significance of grateful remembrance and acknowledgment of God’s favor has been forgotten. The familial gathering and meal had evolved and some even gave this holiday a new name – “turkey Thursday.” The celebration has turned away from giving thanks and instead tuned into football games and Macy’s annual parade on television, to some family trips or shopping for gifts and bargains.
Well, it will be very much different this year because of the deadly coronavirus that continues to bring havoc and disruption in our lives and in the world. Millions of people have been and continue to be infected by this disease and the rate of mortality keeps rising, putting more burden on our strapped health care institutions and overwhelmed medical workers who are taking care of the sick and hospitalized. COVID-19 has altered our beautiful Thanksgiving tradition and the manner in which we will celebrate this holiday. The fear of the disease, government mandates and other restrictions will discourage many from traveling and convince us to stay home to avoid catching the virus ourselves or infecting our more vulnerable family members and friends.
This Thanksgiving Day will be more challenging to observe because it is much easier to be grateful when life is good and everything is going well. Our present generation has been used to and immersed in a culture of materialism, comfort and heightened personal rights. Deprived of material things and convenience, with their independence infringed upon by imposed government restrictions and mandates, I guess some people may have more difficulty coping with their losses instead of acknowledging their gains and being grateful during this pandemic.
Yet, we have many reasons to be always thankful. Gratitude does not minimize nor negate our hardships and sufferings. The coronavirus is a fire that destroys but also a masked grace that can refine and transform us. It opens our awareness to important realities in life: our trust and dependence not on material things but on the value of our personal love and relationships with our families, friends and other people; and the virtue of humility to accept how little control we have over what is happening in our lives and society, thereby expanding our horizon beyond this world.
Furthermore, it helps us rediscover the power of prayer, of spirituality, of solidarity and the goodness of humanity reflected in the heroic work and sacrifices of first responders, health care providers and essential laborers. Some may have experienced tremendous loss, but we have not lost a God who cares and saves. Humanity may have denied and even rejected him, but he has not forgotten us. Our saving grace is a God who is with us and never will abandon us. While we can mourn the loss of these traditions, we nevertheless can honor the spirit of this national holiday to learn again to give thanks to God.
Today, aside from the pandemic, our country also has lamentable civil strife and wounds caused by political discord, social and racial inequity and religious differences. Thanksgiving will be a wonderful time to pray to God to heal these wounds, and to care for those who do not fully share in the blessings we have received. Let us not forget the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the migrants, the refugees and those in prison, as well as our brethren who lack housing, food and health care, and to commend to God the souls of the faithful departed.
Our Thanksgiving Day celebration this year may be constrained. Many of us might stay home rather than attend Mass and receive the Eucharist, the Body of Christ that sustains us and is itself a consecratory thanksgiving. Indeed, the word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving” in Greek. Still, although we may not wish to join a social gathering for fear of the coronavirus, we can continue to pray and participate in a spiritual communion to give thanks to God, the fountain of every good gift.
I encourage you to see beyond the difficulties of this life and to focus on God’s infinite goodness. The idols we made of finite things have crumbled and vanished, but one remains – a God who cares and saves. May his grace inspire us to be grateful for all the blessings we have received, and in gratitude share what we have with others who have less, and in this way give glory and honor to our God.
May God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!