On Thanksgiving eleven years ago when – or so it seems to me now (and in Tolkien’s words), “The world was young, the mountains green, / No stain yet on the Moon was seen” – I wrote a column here entitled “Thanks .” It ended this way:
I sigh and thank God I’m a father, a husband, a friend, an American, and a Catholic. Gratitude comes easily to me for what’s right before my eyes, but I have a somewhat harder time giving thanks simply for being, and as I stand staring out the south-facing windows I close my eyes and look inward to the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit which spreads over me like the sunshine streaming through the panes of the tall mullion windows. I turn left, facing east, the light illuminating half my face, and with eyes closed find the Empty Place and truly, truly say with Saint Paul: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
Illness and loss in the time since have only deepened my personal sense of gratitude, and I want to make a special request of all who read this to recall on Thursday how many blessings we share.
2020 is a year about which few will say, “Best year EVER!” In conversations I’ve had with friends, most have acknowledged it as the worst they’ve ever experienced, and I agree. The shadow of the coronavirus hangs over everything, and what formerly seemed the inexhaustible optimism of the American people now seems all but spent.
On a day in 2017, I was walking home from the train station after spending a few hours in New York City and suddenly found myself struggling to breathe. This was not long after several surgeries. And a week later I was in the hospital having a stent put into one of my coronary arteries. That’s what America in 2020 reminds me of: a nation doubled over and gasping for air. What’s next?!
I was recently joking with a friend that conversations guys our age have tend to descend into that scene in Jaws when Brody, Hooper, and Quint compare their scars  from battles with men and sharks. My friend told me that a friend of his, a golfer, says that his regular foursome has had to adopt a rule: no medical anecdotes may be brought up after tee shots on the first hole.
We all have troubles (as does the nation), and it’s certainly human to want to share them, but when we dwell too much on all that, especially when resentment and anger and even hatred accompany the accounting, we’re moving away from, not towards, grace.
To be sure, there is much happening in America that should make us anxious, because we are citizens as well as Christians. And there are groups and individuals who seem bent upon destroying the very bases of freedom and faith.
T.S. Eliot called April the “cruellest month,” but I think it’s November. It is for me now, because l dread the passing of warmth and the coming of cold. . .and – heaven help me! – I was about to descend into a recitation of my arthritic joints. But we’re off the first tee and heading down the fairway, which reminds me of one of the truly bizarre aspects of 2020: the Masters Tournament in November!
November also brings us Veterans Day – a wonderful day in our household as we recall the service of my father and my wife’s father in WWII and, more recently, of our older son in the Iraq War. And one thing the Miners will pray for on Thursday is peace.
Some of those who have looted and burned stores in what too many political leaders have described as “mostly peaceful protests,” deliberately ignoring violent action, will hypocritically say we should defund the military (and the police), but that would be madness.
And in praying for peace, we should pray for peace of mind among those whose passion for change has led them into nihilism, which – chic though it may seem – is actually about as bourgeois as bourgeois can be. May the Lord soon show them the truth.
In his first Thanksgiving Day Proclamation as president, Ronald Reagan wrote:
America has much for which to be thankful. The unequaled freedom enjoyed by our citizens has provided a harvest of plenty to this nation throughout its history. In keeping with America’s heritage, one day each year is set aside for giving thanks to God for all of His blessings. . . .In this spirit, Thanksgiving has become a day when Americans extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. Long before there was a government welfare program, this spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character. Americans have always understand that, truly, one must give in order to receive. This should be a day of giving as well as a day of thanks.
If we could, as Christians and Americans, heed President Reagan’s wholly appropriate call to give as well as to thank – to do something to provide for the less fortunate in addition to counting our own blessings – we’ll do much to defuse the despair and anger that currently characterizes much of public life in the United States.
Your parish almost certainly has a program of food aid for the poor. Participate. If you take pleasure, as surely you do, in being with family and friends on Thanksgiving, imagine what it’s like for people unable to share that joy – people who not only hunger and thirst for righteousness – but who hunger and thirst, period. People who are lonely.
In his autobiography, G.K. Chesterton wrote that the chief idea of his life “is the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted.”
Ordinary Time is ending. The Mass readings before Advent are apocalyptic: reminding us that Christ the King conquers all.
So, really, November isn’t really cruel at all.