By Bishop James Conley
The celebration of our national holiday of Thanksgiving is a meaningful tradition in our country. It is a time of great blessing to families, who gather together to share a meal, but especially to spend quality time together.
Many of us live busy lives, and because of that busyness, we need Thanksgiving. We need to take a few moments away from our normal, everyday lives to converse with family members, eat some turkey, and maybe watch a little football. And, we need to give thanks.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful occasion to reflect upon the virtue of gratitude. Blessed Solanus Casey, a man of renowned holiness from our own country said, “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.”
Gratitude is a necessary part of being human. We receive our lives as pure gift. No one accounts for his or her own existence. We need one another to live a good, fulfilling life.
In the spiritual life, gratitude is often prescribed as a remedy to the sin of pride. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines pride as “an inordinate self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God” (CCC 1866). Pride is essentially judging yourself to be greater than you really are, taking full credit for your achievements.
Gratitude pushes away the prideful inclinations within us, directing us back into reality. It helps us conquer pride by growing in its opposing virtue, the virtue of humility. Gratitude pleases the Lord and fills us with joy; it sets us free.
Jesus is our model of gratitude. The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.” Through the Paschal Mystery, Jesus offered himself in an act of thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we enter into that eternal act of thanksgiving, which sets us free from sin and death. And we come to the grateful understanding that we have been saved.
Jesus’s act of thanksgiving teaches us something important about gratitude. His act of thanksgiving was also the acceptance of suffering, the acceptance of the cross. Our Lord shows us that we, too, paradoxically, can remain grateful even in the midst of our suffering.
Some families have the tradition of going around the table and all members of the family, young and old alike, tell each other what they are thankful for. This is a beautiful practice and I would encourage it.
Whether your family has this practice or not, I would suggest that you take some time in prayer, telling the Lord all that you are thankful for. Perhaps even take the time to write down these blessings.
Allow me to use this occasion to express my profound gratitude to the people of southern Nebraska.
On November 20th, I celebrated my sixth anniversary as the Bishop of Lincoln. During these six years, I have traveled thousands of miles throughout the state and have visited every parish. And I have witnessed countless expressions of faith.
I have seen the deep faith of Catholics of all ages and walks of life in these travels. I have witnessed vibrant Catholic schools with dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff. I have witnessed public displays of faith in Eucharistic processions, prayerful protests outside of abortion mills, and at public events. I have witnessed parishes that are places of healing for the wounded, communities of genuine love, and on fire for the Word of God.
I am grateful for the dedicated men and women religious in our Diocese. What a blessing you are to us all! You point us all to heaven by your vocation. I thank God for the generous witness of your lives.
I am grateful to all the lay faithful in the Diocese. You inspire me as you serve as missionary disciples in your families, your parishes, and in the public square.
I am especially grateful for my brother priests who serve God and the Diocese of Lincoln so well. I am grateful for your commitment to Christ and to the People of God and the sacrifices that you make. I am grateful for your holiness. Know that I remember you daily in the celebration of Mass. I also include in my prayers and gratitude our wonderful seminarians, who inspire me by their zeal and hope as they prepare to become priests.
During the past few months, great pain has been felt throughout the Universal Church, caused by the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and priestly misconduct. I know that this has caused great pain among the lay faithful of our diocese. I remain committed to do all in my power to ensure that the parishes, schools, and institutions of our diocese are safe places. And if this scandal has fractured the trust of faithful, I want to do all that I can to repair that trust.
I am thankful and edified to hear that throughout the diocese, the faithful have turned to prayer in these difficult times. This is an indication of the profound faith of Catholics in southern Nebraska. Despite our current suffering, we remain grateful to Almighty God for all of his blessings to us.
I wish everyone a very blessed Thanksgiving. I hope that it is a time of rest, enjoyment, and leisure. I pray that it may be an occasion for all of us to take some time to truly give thanks.