This past Sunday, the church commemorated World Day of the Poor. Each year on this day, Catholics are called to pray for and meet Christ in the poor and disadvantaged in our communities. Especially during the pandemic, we must turn our attention and prayer to the most vulnerable, who often are at greatest risk and bear the greatest effects of the virus.
It is especially fitting that World Day of the Poor falls right around the time of Thanksgiving. By focusing our attention on the poor in our midst, we can approach Thanksgiving with a greater appreciation of the many ways God has blessed us and, hopefully, be inspired to find ways to share our blessings with those in need.
As I look ahead to Thanksgiving this year, though, I am well aware that our celebration will look different from the celebrations that many of us are used to having. Unfortunately, community spread of the coronavirus often happens when families gather, especially those who do not live together on a daily basis.
While our celebration of Thanksgiving this year might feel a bit strange, the circumstances we are facing today are quite similar to 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War. Today, our nation is again divided. We are experiencing the large-scale loss of life, just as the American people did then. Yet, in the midst of the challenges our nation faced in those days, President Lincoln called on the people to thank God for their blessings, to offer penance for those who were suffering and to ask God to heal the wounds of our nation and restore us to peace, harmony and unity.
Perhaps President Lincoln’s words can inspire us this year and provide a road map to how we might celebrate Thanksgiving, rooted in gratitude, self-sacrifice and petition to God.
Start with gratitude. Practicing gratitude is the key to expanding our spiritual journey of prayer and intimacy with God. There is always someone and some blessing for which to be grateful, even in the midst of a pandemic, whether it is our own health, a stable job or our ability to connect with loved ones virtually. Take some time this Thanksgiving to reflect on the ways God is blessing you during these difficult times.
Our gratitude enables us to see beyond ourselves and realize our connection to all of humanity. We call this connection solidarity, which is rooted in the truth that we have more in common than what divides us.
As Pope Francis wrote in his recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community.” In order for all of us to overcome this pandemic, we must recognize that our actions don’t just impact us, but everyone in our communities. Solidarity means making mutual sacrifices now for the sake of a greater good later.
So this year, as part of your Thanksgiving, I am asking you to sacrifice for the good of others. Please follow the guidelines of the CDC and the governor in keeping this Thanksgiving safe. I know this is difficult, but I would invite you to do what my mother used to tell us to do when we faced a difficulty, “Offer it up.”
Offer it up for our health care workers on the frontline in the fight against this virus. Offer it up for the people who are in hospital beds struggling to survive. Offer it up for those who have lost a job or a home or especially a loved one due to COVID-19.
Finally, friends, take time this Thanksgiving to ask for God’s mercy to come upon all of us. Ask God to bring an end to this pandemic and the suffering that so many people are experiencing as a result of it. Pray that God will bring healing – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to our nation. Ask God to restore peace, harmony and unity in our hearts, in our homes and in our communities.
May God bless all of you abundantly this Thanksgiving!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.