Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Peace and All Good Column
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., is the seventh Archbishop of Atlanta. In his award-winning column “Peace and All Good,” he shares homilies and pastoral reflections.

Now thank we all our God

By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published November 23, 2021  | En Español

On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, wearied by a bloody Civil War that threatened to destroy the Union and the very future of the American Dream, proclaimed a day of National Thanksgiving. He did so with a somewhat heavy heart, reminding the people of America that this great land, even as it was engaged in a war with itself, had much for which to be thankful. He believed that appropriate expressions of thankfulness for the beauty and great abundance of the newly emerging nation must be directed to the Almighty.

He said, “The year that is drawing to its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart, which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”

The thought of a day set aside and celebrated by the nation as a whole and named Thanksgiving is still a powerful force even during these times of religious plurality and extreme secularism. From its outset Thanksgiving Day was set aside by both President Lincoln and the Congress of the United States so that all Americans could gather together in their own way to give thanks and pray to God for the many blessings bestowed upon this great nation and each of us.

America is a nation of immigrants. We can all trace our ancestral roots to another shore, to another time and to another place and country. Even the first Americans are believed to have come to this magnificent land by way of a land bridge from Asia.

The Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. How many people came to America from foreign lands in search of a better life and the hope of better tomorrows? We are a nation of immigrants, and some who were forced immigrants as slaves, so we have had to learn to live together in harmony. That has not been all that easy, but as Americans we work hard at it. We continue to strive to be tolerant and to be respectful of each other’s cultural and religious heritage and differences. In the great American experiment of democracy, an experiment so successfully and yet painfully lived out by President Abraham Lincoln, we have had to learn tolerance, as did he.

While our celebration of Thanksgiving this year may continue to be impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the circumstances we are facing today are quite similar to 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War. Today, our nation is again divided. We are experiencing the large-scale loss of life, just as the American people did then. Yet, in the midst of the challenges our nation faced in those days, President Lincoln called on the people to thank God for their blessings, to offer penance for those who were suffering and to ask God to heal the wounds of our nation and restore us to peace, harmony and unity.

Perhaps President Lincoln’s words can inspire us this year and provide a road map to how we might celebrate Thanksgiving, rooted in gratitude, self-sacrifice and petition to God. Start with gratitude. Practicing gratitude is the key to expanding our spiritual journey of prayer and intimacy with God. Thanksgiving is essential to the life of a Christian. Giving thanks is giving of ourselves, is putting our gratitude into action.

The tables decorated and set for the 2015 Jesse B. Denney Tower Thanksgiving dinner for senior residents in Athens. In the background volunteer members of the serving crew gathered as they awaited the food’s arrival from the University of Georgia Catholic Center. Volunteers hosted this year’s event Sunday, Nov. 21 in the true spirit of solidarity. Photo by Michael Alexander

The Eucharist is the ultimate moment of giving thanks, when we actually experience in a real way God’s presence and Jesus inside of us. The pandemic made it very difficult for people to be physically present at Mass and to receive Holy Communion. Missing the Eucharist has made us appreciate what a great gift we have in the Body and Blood of Jesus offered at each Mass. Those who are attending Mass can make a point of reflecting on what you are grateful for each time you are there. As we leave Mass we are called to take that thanks everywhere we go.

There is always someone and some blessing for which to be grateful, even in the midst of a pandemic, whether it is our own health, a stable job or our ability to connect with loved ones virtually. Take some time this Thanksgiving to reflect on the ways God is blessing you during these difficult times. Our gratitude enables us to see beyond ourselves and realize our connection to all of humanity. We call this connection solidarity, which is rooted in the truth that we have more in common than what divides us.

Pope Francis wrote in his recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (“On Fraternity and Social Friendship”), “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community.”

In order for all of us to overcome the pandemic and the many other challenges in our nation, we must recognize that our actions impact everyone in our communities. Solidarity means making mutual sacrifices now for the sake of a greater good later. Solidarity means that we see every person as our neighbor with dignity, because the human person is made in the image and likeness of God. So this year, as part of our Thanksgiving, let each of us sacrifice for the good of others.

How often we have heard the expression “Offer it up!” Whatever sacrifices we make, let us offer them up! Offer it up for our health care workers on the frontline in the fight against this virus. Offer it up for the people who are in hospital beds struggling to survive. Offer it up for those who have lost a job or a home or especially a loved one due to COVID-19.

Finally, friends, take time this Thanksgiving to ask for God’s mercy to come upon all of us. Let us praise God for the unity and diversity that we experience in this great nation. May the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness become a reality for every person. Mindful of the impact of COVID-19, let us ask God to bring an end to this pandemic and the suffering that so many people are experiencing as a result of it. Pray that God will bring healing—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually—to our nation. Ask God to restore peace, harmony and unity in our hearts, in our homes and in our communities.

May God bless all of you abundantly this Thanksgiving!  Pax et bonum! Peace and all good!