By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published November 22, 2012
During the relatively early years of television, when there were only about three or four network stations broadcasting and all available programming generally concluded around 12 midnight, the weekly sitcoms and the game shows and the news programs typically ended their weekly airings on Friday with the encouragement: “Please remember to worship in a church or synagogue of your choice!”
In those laid-back days, even Hollywood and New York readily shared in the open promotion of religious practices. It was an age when there were apparently fewer notable conflicts between the entertainment world and organized religion. There were atheists and agnostics to be sure, but they, too, calmly allowed people of faith openly to acknowledge the spiritual values that are so much a part of the fabric of this nation. It was a moment in time when citizens’ watchdog organizations perchance had other targets for protest.
We obviously have changed from those moments in time.
Thanksgiving has never been a religious holiday—it is a civic event that unquestionably has an unavoidable spiritual component to it. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and those of other faiths all concede the spiritual values surrounding this holiday, even if they do not agree in expressing or defining them. Yet we now find it increasingly difficult to highlight any of those religious values without running afoul of someone or some group.
We must obviously be thankful to Someone for the bounty of our nation, for our own good fortune, for the freedoms that we enjoy—but how and to Whom do we convey that gratitude? We now need to be very careful of how we express our gratitude and where we direct those sentiments of appreciation! Nevertheless, Thanksgiving seems to urge us to acknowledge our need to be thankful and thus the holiday itself may be the cause of our dilemma.
The Catholic Church has not designated Thanksgiving as a holy day of obligation, and even the civic observance can claim no official part of the Catholic liturgical schema. Yet our churches will be filled with people who will come to praise God for His bountiful generosity on Thanksgiving Day. We know and believe that without the Merciful and Loving God none of us would even exist, much less enjoy so many blessings.
Thanksgiving draws us into an awareness that we have received graces and good fortune from some source beyond our own hard work and labor. There is a source of our blessings that is beyond ourselves. Thanksgiving points to a cause of the bounty that I enjoy that is outside of me. As we enter this wonderful time of year when families and friends come together in joy and fellowship, we also encounter more frequently the strident challenges to expressing openly the religious themes and nature of the season. Only Black Friday seems to go unscathed as a point of reference.
None of us would ever want to return to the early days of television—that age too had its own obvious problems—but at least it allowed for the spiritual and religious character of this time of year to be publicly acknowledged and openly promoted: “Please remember to worship in a church or synagogue of your choice!”
Happy Thanksgiving, my dear sisters and brothers! We realize that all of the blessings that we share come from the hand of an All-Loving and Perfectly Merciful God. Proudly do we acknowledge that truth as we try to live it more perfectly each day of the year. I’ll see many of you in church where we will give God the Glory and Praise that He and He alone so richly deserves!