Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Would Abe Say?

(Thanksgiving 2015: This homily was given on November 26, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2015]

I wonder what Abe would say.  If our 16th president could suddenly come back to earth and experience a 21st century Thanksgiving with us here in the United States of America, how would he respond?

When Abraham Lincoln made the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday in 1863, he said it was to be a day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

A couple of years ago, on the 150th anniversary of this event, an op-ed piece appeared in the Providence Journal by Kyle Scott, a political science professor at the University of Houston.  And in that little article Scott said the following:

In the past 150 years, the holiday has been secularized and the religious connotations—whether expressed by Lincoln or because the Pilgrims came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution, thereby giving the day a religious dimension even without Lincoln’s proclamation—have been stripped away.  The secularization of giving thanks has all but given way to a day of shopping and individualistic pursuits.  Thanksgiving is less about reflection and sharing moments with family and more about waiting in line at one’s favorite big box store.

I wonder what Abe would say about all that.

In all likelihood, not too many good things.

This means that what all of you are doing this morning—gathering here in prayer; pausing to reflect on the many blessings that God has given to you, to your family and to the world; and then actually thanking Almighty God for these blessings—is counter-cultural!

It’s not the norm anymore!  It’s the exception, not the rule.

Nowadays the biggest concern for many people on Thanksgiving morning is not, “What time is the family getting together today?”  (Which is what it used to be.)  Rather, it’s “What time does Walmart open today?”

Kyle Scott wrote:

The consumerist drive has supplanted a day of giving thanks with days of consumption.  The impatience of consumers and retailers means no longer is Black Friday soon enough, but Thursday must now be invaded.  It’s impossible to authentically give thanks when one can’t wait to get more.

This, by the way, is why our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is always railing against consumerism!  To a person steeped in consumerism “things” and the accumulation of more “stuff” are more important than God—and more important than other people.

I can’t help but believe that on this issue Abraham Lincoln and our Holy Father would be on the very same page.

Let me close now with this thought:

Usually gratitude is expressed by what we DO.  It’s expressed in action.  In today’s gospel reading, for example, a Samaritan leper is healed by Jesus, and he expresses his gratitude to our Lord by doing something.  Actually he does 3 things: he turns around, he walks back to Jesus, and he says, “Thank you, Lord, for healing me of my leprosy and making me well.”

That’s the way gratitude normally works.

But there are some cases when the opposite is true.  There are certain times in our lives when gratitude is best expressed by what we DON’T DO—like needlessly shopping on Thanksgiving.

Dear Lord, we are beginning this day with you here at Mass—which is the best way to begin any day.  In doing this we are honoring the desire of President Lincoln by offering (as he would put it) “Thanksgiving and praise to [you] our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”  Help us to express our gratitude to you during the remainder of this day by doing some things: by saying Grace before our Thanksgiving meal, by spending some quality time with some of the people through whom you have blessed our lives—and by remembering those in need.  And help us also to express our gratitude by saying no: by saying no to shopping, by saying no to selfishness, by saying no to any and every temptation we may experience to put things before you and before our brothers and sisters.  Amen.