Thanksgiving, and “the Holidays” in general, are going to be quite a challenge to manage in this year of a “Great Pandemic,” already set to eclipse in impact and importance any eventual “Person of the Year” that Time may designate, if not the virus itself. COVID-19 looms over “the Holidays” as a lightning rod, threatening to sop up all the energy traditionally devoted at this time to the festivities of eating, drinking, decorating and merrymaking with friends and family. Like the proverbial wet mop, it’s a real party pooper. But what are we supposed to be celebrating anyway?

What if we approached “the Holidays” differently this year? Instead of bemoaning our struggles, denials and deprivations, the memories we cannot repeat or the fun we could have had this year, what if we focused our minds and hearts on the only One who is always present to us, in good times and in bad, always faithful and loving, always kind and forgiving? What if we honored and celebrated God as Person of the year, this year and every year to come?

The idea is not so farfetched, even in a culture whose aging mind seems to be suffering from amnesia about its roots: “one nation under God.” Increasingly, our society shuns God! By this I am not thinking only of the obvious examples of equating Satanism and atheism with God-centered faiths on various civic and political stages and platforms. Or the decrees and policies eliminating prayer in schools and public places. God is shunned by the tyranny of the individual ego fully displayed at any juncture or passageway where someone else’s life gets in “my” way. A thankless, mean-spirited proclamation of entitlement pervades public discourse and behavior, from road rage to the “Black Friday” stampedes. We shun God whenever we demean or dispose of any other human being, treating them as anything less than a brother or sister.

We just celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King as the liturgical year comes to an end. Next week we begin the season of Advent, a time for patient waiting and listening. God is always trying to enter our lives because he wants us to know his love for each of us and the peace and healing that brings. Jesus deserves to be the king of our hearts, his rightful throne. Right now, he is competing amidst so many other fears and preoccupations that most of us have. Concerns about our country, our health, the well-being of our families, our jobs and financial security, our future. The Thanksgiving pause and the season of Advent are invitations to place all of these matters in the hands of God.

We can begin by counting our blessings. Thank God for our life, our families and friends and especially for the gift of our faith. We may feel a certain loneliness, being separated by the distancing of various forms of physical quarantine. Consider the blessings of our technology that enables us to not only to hear the voices of loved ones from whom we are separated, but also to see their faces — something not so readily available 20 years ago. Unlike previous pandemics, the availability of food on demand has been almost uninterrupted. How grateful we should be for the people and the economic system that facilitates this, including those generous volunteers who have helped to bridge the shortfall that some have experienced.
Let’s thank God we are alive and that he has chosen us to be ambassadors of hope in this world that he loves. God calls each of us by name. He wants to live in our hearts, to make them tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. None of us may be worthy but he needs us to help him bring his peace to the world, one person at a time.

Recall that God was the reason for the first Thanksgiving, not the turkey, the pies, or even the family gathering at grandmother’s house “over the river and through the woods.” On Oct. 3, 1789, George Washington declared “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favors … now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th of November next, to be devoted to the service of that great and glorious Being, Who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or will be.” Thanksgiving is for God — to thank him first before we dig into a meal. Remember to pray with whomever you may be with.

It is the mission of every Christian to share the good news of God’s love joyfully in some way with everyone whom we encounter. The Church exists to tell that good news. But the Church cannot do this unless each and every one of us takes the time to reflect and to thank God for the blessings in our lives.

In a recent homily reflection, Bishop Barron relates a fascinating modern-day parable. He shares a story told by Father Paul Murray, an Irish Dominican, a spiritual advisor and sometime advisor to Mother Teresa. Once when he was in a deep conversation with Mother, he was searching out the sources of her spirituality and mission. At the end of their long talk, she asked him to spread his hand out on the table and, touching his fingers one by one as they spoke, she said, “You did it to me.” The obvious question for all of us is, how are we treating one another? Because that is exactly what we are doing (or not doing) to God. That includes friends and family, of course, but perhaps even more so the stranger, to whom Jesus often draws our attention in the gospels.

Our mission is not only to keep the faith, but to spread it. The Church is most true to its mission when it keeps facing outward. Jesus calls us the “light of the world.” This season of grace my prayer is that each of us may let Jesus’ undying birth in our hearts rejuvenate us with a renewed sense of purpose in a world so hungry for this message of God’s embrace. May God bless you on this holy mission of lighting up the world around you. It is amazing what one candle can do in a dark space, especially a heart yearning for a kind word: you are beloved of God. Just taking the time to listen to that heart is enough to affirm the sacredness of its existence. In a world where God has been shunned, we can welcome him whenever we welcome one another.