We live in a time of heightened tension and discord and unease. None of these is likely unique to our present time, but we can probably remember a time when life was much less stressful, more innocent and carefree and untroubled. Much of the tension that surrounds us is related to politics and the very vocal and contentious personalities that embody them. This very unapologetic and public declaration of a specific position on any number of issues forces us to eventually take sides, and affiliate with one group in opposition to another or several other groups, causing tension, discord, unease. But a natural consequence of this differentiation has taken a more personal twist, probably because it often suggests that opposing positions can never ever coexist, that only one side can be right, and there can be no middle ground, no gray area, no compromise, and the only acceptable outcome is total victory and the crushing defeat of the opposition.
But more mature, wise, and practical minds work hard to keep Armageddon at bay. They will have an opinion. But they mostly choose to keep it to themselves. They know to tread lightly, walking the fine line between truth and charity.
Our experience and perspective of this tension and discord and unease will be as varied as we are different one from another. What it often comes down to is that we recognize that there are many factors we do not control. But there are some that we can, primarily what we choose to say, and what we choose to do. An easy default is the impulsive option, which is often how those respond who are more vocal and more confrontational. A more reasoned response requires prayer and reflection, and some dialogue with those we trust who are wiser and more experienced. And sometimes a charitable silence is by far a much wiser response.
The focus of our reflection today is the Thanksgiving Feast. It is a civic holiday with its own attendant baggage, complete with tension, discord, and unease, even before we impose on it a specifically spiritual, Christian, or Catholic dimension. There is no requirement to participate in the observance of the civic holiday. It is highly encouraged, but there are no penalties for non-observance. There is great need to provide incentives to participate, positive, attractive, inviting things.
When we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families next week, we can help to set the tone. Our primary goal is to give thanks to God, which we can easily accomplish on our own. But clearly the occasion is a community affair. So we will need to see past our differences, put greater emphasis on our communion with one another and our call to discipleship, and extend reconciliation and mutual respect. Yes, there will be nose rings and obnoxious tattoos and undesirable partners attached to the individuals we want to love and spend time with. But we will need to set our sights farther down the road. We will need to examine our hearts and ask how the tone we are setting right now actually contributes to that long range vision we have for the people gathered with us around the table. And we adjust accordingly.
We celebrate Thanksgiving today here at St. John, a week early. So we get to practice here what we hope to accomplish among family and friends next Thursday. Our Thanksgiving feast begins here in church around the Table of the Word and the Eucharist. Hopefully it is exactly the tone we want to set. Gathered in this sacred place, our last Thanksgiving in this building, we raise our minds and hearts to God and unite ourselves to that sacrifice of Thanksgiving and Reconciliation most pleasing to the Father that Jesus himself offered along with our meager and humble gifts of bread and wine. It is a truly noble sentiment. And yes, we look around and notice there are many empty seats. It is a weeknight after all, an arbitrary date that holds little if any meaning to people outside our parish. But among those in our parish, there will be some who have just chosen not to join us. And some just can’t join us at 6:00 PM; they will join us later. Some have other commitments. Some need to work in the kitchen downstairs to get things ready. And for reasons unknown to us, there are some who may not feel welcome to join us at mass. Some even say they get nothing from coming to mass. Some will get in just in time for dinner, perhaps by choice, perhaps by necessity. Whatever their reasons, there’s not much we can do about them. It’s just the way it is.
But what we choose to do, how we navigate these minefields of fragile egos and relationships needs to be part of a broader plan, from what we want to accomplish right this moment to ultimately the lasting legacy we want to leave to specific individuals and to the community at large, and everything in between. It works to our advantage if we consider these things well in advance. It is too important to leave things to chance.
So what do we actually want to accomplish this day? Are we aiming for a meal to rival Martha Stewart? Are we trying to break the record for how many we send into a food coma or the ER? Are we aiming for an over-all pleasant gathering, with no hurtful discussion of politics or religion or lifestyle, with civil and stimulating conversation, perhaps an impromptu musical jam, a poetry reading, hilarious story-telling? It might feel artificial if we have to set some ground rules. But if we know and agree on our desired outcome, the process of getting there won’t be half as painful.
Above all, our efforts at giving thanks in the context of family or community must first acknowledge God who is the source of all our blessings. And our gratitude to God overflows into tangible expressions toward others of hospitality and compassion and anticipation in showing honor. What we hold in common binds us, our faith in God, our life together, our shared goodwill. Everything else will be secondary.
Today we will also take the opportunity to recognize those who make a positive impact on our life together as a parish family. It is a short list. We do just a little each time. We don’t aim to be exhaustive. By it we mean to recognize all our volunteers, to encourage more participation, to foster a climate of hospitality, mutual respect, compassion, and cooperation. We want to encourage a spirit of gratitude across the board, at all times, in every facet of parish life, from top down and bottom up.
For us, thankfulness needs to be an overarching personal attitude and objective. We teach gratitude by modeling gratitude, intentionally, driven by our love for God and our neighbor, asking no recognition, aiming to transform others’ lives, to bring about good in their lives as God has brought about good in ours, and to bring them to discover their own reasons to be thankful, and repeat the favor for others in their lives.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019