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home : bishop : columns

11/25/2015 9:00:00 AM
Giving and Thanksgiving
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger issued the following statement on the Syrian refugee crisis: "You cannot open a newspaper or turn on the TV or sign onto social media without being confronted by the heartbreaking reality of a world in danger of losing sight of our common humanity in the gravest way. As Syrian refugees run for their lives with little more than the clothes on their backs, shadowed by the constant threat of persecution and genocide, politicians here at home resort to rhetoric -- and policies -- that appeal to our darkest fears. We cannot give in to xenophobia and misplaced blame!

"The fact is that this will not stop unless the destabilization that drives the refugees to flee is addressed effectively. The responsibility for that falls on statespersons from around the globe, but especially from countries such as our own, to which the world turns for leadership.

"National security remains, first and foremost, a responsibility of our political leaders. At the same time, recognizing that refugees of all faiths and nationalities are our brothers and sisters, most people are naturally drawn to welcome and assist them, not only because our faith tells us so, but also because human decency demands it. Many Catholic organizations, locally and throughout the country, stand ready to assist refugees who have arrived after a rigorous screening process.

"As we celebrate Thanksgiving, gathered around tables laden with food and family and faith, we simply cannot turn our backs on those who have lost everything -- in some cases, their lives -- because of their faith. We are one, and when we forget that, we slip dangerously toward becoming more like the people we fear than the people we were created to be.

"We have a choice: Will we be people of hope or people of despair?"


What does God do all day long? Above any other action, it belongs to God's very nature to give.

St. John tells us "God is love" (1 John 4:8), which is to say God is pure gift. Nothing could be more revealing of the true nature of love than a pure gift, something given "without strings attached." And the purest gift of all is the gift of oneself.

Yes, it is revealed to us that God is a Trinity: three persons so "crazy" (one might say) about each other for all eternity that each person totally revolves around the other. The essence of God the Father is to go out of that divine person so completely as to generate an equal yet different divine person, the Son.

This "kiss" between Father and Son is so real as to generate eternally a third divine person, the Holy Spirit. If love is what makes the world -- and all creation -- go 'round, we can see where it comes from. What a mystery!

The long, Latin word "consubstantial" in the recent English translation of the Credo is meant to capture this core mystery of our faith more precisely than "one in being with...." It conveys a sense of both radical oneness and distinct otherness: oneness in substantia (substance, or who God is essentially), but also through personal difference and distinctness, unique enough to be referred to in Latin as con (with) -- the three Persons are "together."

God is both "within," sovereign and complete by nature, and always "out there," charged with love. In God there lives eternally a spectacularly explosive dynamism, propelling endless acts of life-giving love. No wonder the universe is so busy! No wonder all creation is, as the psalmist might sing, full of the glory of the living God!

Thanksgiving is a time in which we celebrate just being alive together. It is a wonderful accident of our Thanksgiving tradition that there is really nothing we have to be but ourselves on that day. No one has to put on a special costume. Nothing has to be dressed or decorated, expect the table and edible delectables. No one has to send cards or gifts.

More than any celebration throughout the year, more people move around at Thanksgiving. That is because, more than any other feast, Thanksgiving is about people and relationship. The essence of the day is both being together (existing in relationship) and eating together (sharing of sustenance). That's remarkably God-like!

Not coincidentally, eating together -- sharing a meal -- is the means by which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, who became the incarnate Word of God, chose to bond Himself with us forever in the holy Eucharist, which we also call the Mass.

At every Mass, the only thing we need to do is just show up! The Mass is a "place" in which everyone is welcome around the table. There ought not be any class distinctions by race, wealth, health, gender, sex, age, talent, nationality, culture, language or any other kind of status by which we may be labeled every day by ourselves or others.

All are welcome and valued as one. In fact, we are so "equal" that we can be one in the Lord, for He is the Lord of all, living and dead, without distinction. God's image can only be truly reflected in a communion of love wherein everyone respects and accepts everyone else.

Thanksgiving is a time that, because of its simple and uncomplicated nature, reflects more than any other celebration what it really means to be part of the human family.

Every family, however, has its origins. We all come into this human family from and through others whom we did not create -- ultimately, from God, life's creator, whom we thank for the gift of life itself.

There is no "thanksgiving" unless someone is being thanked - and the One whom we thank above all on Thanksgiving is the all-giving God.

If time and circumstances permit, I would invite every member of our family of faith to join me at Mass on Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. This is a good way to begin that day: remembering the one from whom everything that we have and hope for comes.

If you are attending Mass in your local parish, know that I will be praying for you. The Mass is the best way to be connected with loved ones who may not be with us on that day physically for one reason or another. We are never closer to one another, living or deceased, than we are at Mass, around the table of the Lord.

Heaven and Earth are united at the banquet of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-10).

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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