By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published November 21, 2018 | En Español
Our annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a mixture of history and folklore. We date it to 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts when the first settlers were joined by Native Americans to celebrate with a bountiful meal a successful harvest after a harsh earlier year. That first celebration has been identified annually as the conclusion of or a response to prior difficult moments.
We thank God for having seen us through any awful past experiences. We probably can all recall daunting moments during this past year that have frightened and startled us and as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we have many reasons to praise God for having seen us through rough moments.
The families of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the members of Tree of Life Synagogue, the grieving relatives in Thousand Oaks, California, those who are still recovering from the effects of Hurricanes Michael and Florence and those who are fighting fires in California will probably have subdued Thanksgivings this year. Nevertheless, even they may be able to find reasons to thank God for the outreach and care of first responders, for compassionate neighbors and for the generosity of complete strangers who have embraced and supported them in the midst of their deep sorrows and pain.
The challenges we have faced as individuals or within our families may pale in comparison to the sorrow that too many others must bear from this past year. Yet we are all conjoined in praising God for the blessings that have come our way.
The first Thanksgiving Day was a moment when the newly arrived pilgrims and the native peoples shared a meal of gratitude after a particularly brutal winter. We Catholics will share a Meal of Thanksgiving that unites us across cultural, language, racial and ethnic differences as we celebrate our Thanksgiving Masses throughout this local Church and the Church universal. The Eucharist—the Church’s most important act of Thanksgiving—is God’s gift and promise.
This Thanksgiving, we should all keep in mind and heart the many people who are still bearing great sorrow on this otherwise festive day. Those who have suffered acts of gun violence, natural disasters and other acts of terror need to know that we continue to keep them close in prayer.
Fifty years ago, our Church was given another reason to thank God for His goodness and pastoral care when the diaconate was restored as an active and widespread ministry within the life of the Church. The Church in the United States of America has the largest number of deacons of any nation and we in the Archdiocese of Atlanta have nearly 300 of these generous ministers of the Gospel. There are few pastoral situations that have not benefitted from the ministry of our deacons over the years. They comfort and visit the sick, help prepare young couples for marriage, console the grieving, visit prisoners, help travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson find a quiet place to attend Mass and pray, they stand at the altars of our churches and proclaim the Good News of Christ and distribute the Eucharist. They baptize babies and congratulate new parents. They are the face of the Servant Jesus and we should praise God for their goodness and service.
Unlike transitional deacons in our seminaries who have a limited time to exercise the diaconate, these permanent deacons become our neighbors and fellow parishioners and remind us that Christ is found wherever charity is given flesh and blood. God bless the deacons of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and their families who love and support them in their ministry.
Happy Thanksgiving dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!