Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Thanksgiving is upon us

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published November 21, 2013

I have enjoyed writing letters for as long as I can remember. I like to think that letter writing is my modest contribution to the continued existence of the United States Postal Service. But I suppose some may say it is a compulsion. Well, whatever. I like writing letters, for whatever the reason.

Thanksgiving is upon us. I was writing a letter to a friend of mine earlier this morning and my thoughts moved from wishing her a happy Thanksgiving to reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are a lot of articles in the media these days that revive the memories born from November 22, 1963. Reading some of them brought back my own memories of that time. I was a sophomore in high school. It was a sunny November day, early in the afternoon. An announcement suddenly came over the loudspeaker in the classroom.

Normally, all announcements came from the school office at the end of the school day. So we knew something was out of the ordinary. The principal told us that the president had been shot in Dallas, to pray for him, and that classes were canceled for the rest of the day. I did not know that President Kennedy was dead until I boarded the bus and saw people crying, holding radios to their ears. As I was writing this to my friend, other memories came back, memories of very ordinary things that stand out for me from that time. I remember what the people looked like on that bus, a pretty young woman with mascara running down her cheeks. An old man, looking out the window, choking back tears, shaking his head. A woman wiping tears from her face while holding her baby close to her. The bus driver, silently staring ahead as he drove, shaking his head back and forth.

Several days later I was in my bedroom on the third floor of our house and I heard my mom cry out. She was downstairs watching the television.

Her cry was one of shock, disbelief. She was watching as Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby. I ran downstairs, and Mom was crying.

Since that time, many events have taken place that have made me want to better understand what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving. It deserves a place on our calendar. But how to express our thanks in light of what we inflict upon each other has long been a sobering thought for me.

It can creep its way into my heart in an act as simple as writing a letter.

We all know the losses that are part and parcel of life. We live through good times and bad. Life is like an ongoing engagement with wedding vows: we must live it, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death due us part. It is very hard to divorce oneself from life, from its joys and sorrows. Growth cannot take place without pain. I do not know why that is. I only know that it is true, just as without sorrow, there can be no real human love.

So I wonder if all of life is God’s letter to us. His writing is on the human heart. He lives within us. Suffers in and through us. Laughs and cries with us. God is on the buses of life, holding babies, mascara running, staring straight ahead. God, who was once far, is very near, living in each of us. I want to believe that, and be thankful for it, and know that somehow, my efforts at thanks are somehow his as well.

For he is the best part of me.

I would love to write him a letter. He has blessed us all in ways that are good, and in ways that hurt. I want to thank him, even for those things I do not understand.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at