My name is Simon –and I grew up in Bethlehem. You know who I am – but you won’t realize this until after I finish telling you my story.
Life was hard for me as a boy – you see, I was disfigured from birth – I had a crooked back and could not stand up straight and tall – and so many in Bethlehem, especially other boys my own age – shunned me because of my repulsive looks- you know how cruel people can be. . .
More often than not –when I asked for alms or help --- I received blows and curses instead.
I never knew my father – and when my mother died two years ago – I lost my one and only friend.
So I was all alone – no home, no friends, no means of support – I just wandered the streets of this little town of Bethlehem – hoping to find my next meal in the piles of trash left in the back alleys.
Once or twice a week, when evening rolled around, I would make my way out to a little inn at the outskirts of town. The cook there would often let me sit by the fire pit as he prepared the meals for the guests in the inn.
Oh -- To sit in the glow of the heat from the charcoal cooking fire, to smell the delicious odors of the roasting meat, these were the finest experiences I knew --- and when I was given the scraps of bones and fat discarded by the guests at the inn –
I felt like I was at a great banquet as this was the most nourishing food I had all week.
Later, I would slip into the stable built into the hillside behind the inn. There were found a cow and donkey belonging to the innkeeper, as well as the horses of the more affluent travelers.
Also, in a little stall at one end, were kept a few sheep – where I slept. The sheep were gentle beasts, and their soft, wooly sides were a fine protection against the chill of the night, allowing me to fall fast asleep.
Late one night, I was awakened by a commotion the likes of which I had never heard before. I lay there for the longest time –
terrified that the sounds might be made by robbers attempting to steal a horse or a cow – or maybe even a sheep!
But at last within the very stable walls, I heard the joyful cry of a small baby! At hearing this, I could not contain myself any longer: I rose to my knees, and peered between the boards which separated the sheep pen from the rest of the stable. I gazed in amazement on the scene – and had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. . .
Seated upon a robe atop a pile of hay -- a mother held an obviously newborn baby in her lap.
Gathered before her in attitudes of worship were a small group of shepherds --- seeing all of this --- I just had to get a better look!!
Almost without willing it, I climbed over the boards of the stall – thoroughly expecting to be driven from the stable with blows and curses – because that’s what I was used to getting. . .
But instead, a roughly dressed man – he must have been the baby’s father – took my hand and led me toward the child. The shepherds moved aside to let me pass – as though I was a prince or person of great importance.
So, I found myself kneeling before this newborn child. And then his mother turned the child in her arms so his gaze rested squarely upon me.
I knelt there trembling in nervous fear and awe. The child’s dark eyes were looking right at me - -and without knowing why – I felt compelled to return his gaze.
I then felt like I was drowning – or falling into a bottomless pit of that fathomless gaze. There was a feeling of fiery force which seemed to flow through my body, and then I turned and twisted in a way I could not understand. There was a moment of almost unbearable pain, and then I rose to my feet.
For moment, I could not understand what had happened: things looked so different!! And then it came to me that I had never before looked upon the world from this height, or from this angle – because my back was straight and I had never felt so strong or more ------ normal.
The father of the child came suddenly to lay a hand upon my head. “My son”, he said, “tonight you have been given the gift of a strong, new back. Such miracles are not wasted. I do not know how, but someday, when this baby has become a man, he will have need of a strong back. When the times comes, though you have roamed to the very end of the earth, you will be there beside him. . . By what name are you called, and where have you come from?”
“I am Simon, Sir,” I answered. “I am an orphan. My father was the leader of a mighty caravan. But he was killed by robbers in the year I was born. He used to live in Cyrene, before he came to Bethlehem and met my mother. Now that I am whole and strong - -I think I will go there. Perhaps some of my father’s people are living there still.” So saying, I turned away, and went out into the first light of morning.
All of these memories came crashing back to me as I was caught up in a great crowd many years later on the streets of Jerusalem. It was the feast of Passover and the streets were crowded with many pilgrims – and there was an execution in process by those dreaded Romans.
One of them grabbed me and had me pick up the cross of one of those about to be executed. . .
This time a man’s dark eyes, rather than a child’s, were looking right at me. And once again I felt as if I were falling into a bottomless pit of his fathomless gaze.
He simply mouthed the words “Thank You” as I took up his cross on my strong, straight, back – and remembered how this man, as a newborn child, blessed me with it.
I am Simon of Cyrene – and this is my story. But what does it have to do with you???
Well let’s face it – each of you have been given gifts and talents by God:
strong backs, strong minds, strong hands, strong hearts – Why you even celebrate the gift you have of each other ---- by exchanging gifts on this most holy of days --- all to show your love for one another.
As someone once said: Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give – it’s Christmas. When we give any gift: our time, our talent, our treasure, our strength – or just a smile: it is Christmas.
Just know that gifts are given not to be wasted – but to be shared. In this way, it’s possible to have Christmas all year round! And someday –we don’t know when, where, how or why ---
God is going to want us to use our gifts for the good of the kingdom . . . So cherish the gifts in life you have been given – and never forget who it was who gave them to you: the same person wo gave me the gift of a strong new back!
Use your gifts to take care of those around you – and be willing to offer them in service to others.
So have a blest Christmas – and welcome, anew, the gift of Christ into your hearts and lives this day!
Live with gratitude. Live with intention. Live with joy. So please join me in singing:
O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him --- Christ, the Lord.
Sisters and brothers of St. Patrick – how quickly time passes! Here it is already the 4th Sunday of Advent – and my final time to write you. I hope these weeks have been meaningful for you.
So Advent is a time of watching and waiting. A time of preparing our minds and hearts and lives to receive the Lord anew at Christmas. A time for slowing down and turning inward so as to fall in love with Jesus all over again.
There are certainly things that can slow this process down – and possibly block it all together. We have looked at some of them over the last few weeks
Lack of focus and the lack of paying attention to what God wants to tell us and where God is trying to lead us – because we are too distracted by what the world is trying to tell us and where the world is trying to lead us.
Sin – and the inability for us to admit that we have fallen short of who we are called to be. The need to feel remorse or regret for what we have done and have failed to do in missing the mark of being like Jesus.
Doubt – about our need for a Savior, or in thinking we can be saved by someTHING rather than someONE. . . and also doubt about who we are and who we are called to be.
Our readings of Scripture during this season gives us one more stumbling block to an open heart to consider on this 4th Sunday of Advent --- and that stumbling block is ---- FEAR …..
Now we are certainly not the first to experience fear – when it comes to God’s call or God’s plan for us. . . .
Why just last week, the Prophet Isaiah told us: “Be strong, and fear not! Here is your God who comes to save you.”
And when the angel Gabriel announced the good news to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s son, the angel said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Or on the night Christ was born, angels appeared to shepherds in a field and told them: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
Today, in the Gospel, it was Joseph who was experiencing fear: for an angel was also sent to him in a dream to say: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
Many times throughout his ministry Jesus had to calm the fear of his disciples and others. . .
What is with all this FEAR??? I think it is because when God comes knocking at the door of our hearts – it always mean change is coming – and let’s face it, not many of us like change –
we like who we are and who we have become, we get comfortable where we are at –and so we fear change.
What else do we have to fear when God comes a knocking – besides the fear of change?
How about fear of failure. . .
Or fear of success – that God will actually change us into the people we pray we can be???
There is fear of losing control of our lives – because God will be in charge, and we will not.
Fear of standing out in the crowd.
Fear of not fitting in.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of pain.
Fear of being asked to do something uncomfortable – or something we don’t really want to do – like forgiving someone. . .
There is fear of losing our freedom.
Fear of looking weak, or funny, or silly.
Fear of losing status.
Fear of being made fun of.
Fear of being misunderstood.
Have I hit any of your fears yet – or are these just some of mine??
Yes, when God comes knocking --- there are lots of things to be fearful of ----
but remember what Jesus once told his followers: perfect love casts out all fear. . .
If we love the Lord with all our minds, hearts, and souls – then God will deal with our fears – AND our doubts, and our sins, and our distractions. . .
If we say YES to God – as did Mary, as did Joseph, as did the disciples --- God will place his spirit within us – not a spirit of cowardice – but a spirit that calls out, Abba, that is father. . .
Those who know they are loved – can do incredible things --- and have no doubt --- God is calling us to incredible things! We do need to know that God definitely loves us – that’s why God has given us the gift of his son.
“And this is how the birth of Jesus Christ comes about ---- today” -- by our kind words and generous actions.
By others seeing us act as Jesus acted.
Speaking as Jesus spoke.
Caring as Jesus cared.
Loving as Jesus loved.
Giving as Jesus gave.
In these ways, Jesus continues to be given birth. . . but NOT if we wrap ourselves in fear – rather than love.
So my final message to you is to – open your hearts and let the king of glory in.
Allow the Wonder-counselor, God-hero, and Prince of Peace – to be the focus of your life – and he will mercifully deal with all of your sins, all of your doubts and all of your fears.
No ONE else – or no THING else is going to be able to do this for you!
So my brothers and sisters, called to be holy and blameless before the Lord, I hope in some small way my words to you over these weeks of Advent will allow you to do what you need to do ---- to make room for Jesus in your hearts. It won’t be easy – if it was, everyone would be doing it.
Know that you are special – because you have been chosen from the first moment of your existence to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So do your ministry with great joy and great conviction.
Remain faithful to God’s word and to the strength which comes to you in this faith community of St. Patrick.
Someday I will pick up my quill again – and write you a few words of encouragement and challenge. But for now, I will always remain your brother in Christ --- PAUL
Brothers and sisters of St. Patrick: you should know the routine by now. . . I am Paul and I am writing to you during this busy season of Advent just to remind you of a few things. . .
But before I get to the gist of what I have to say today – I want to tell you to REJOICE! For this is Gaudete or rejoicing Sunday – always observed on this 3rd Sunday of Advent. We get to rejoice – and wear rose vesments – because time is passing – we are half way through Advent – and our salvation draws ever nearer.
So rejoice – smile a little today – and make everyone wonder what you are up to!
So just a little review before we move on. The world is in a totally different place this time of year than the heart of a Christian should be. So the first week of Advent I reminded you to stay awake! And to pay attention – not to what the world is telling you or where it is trying to lead you --- but to what God wants to tell you and to where God wants to lead you.
I challenged you to quietly turn inward rather than frantically outward – to prepare a place in your heart for Christ to come and dwell anew. I hope you have actually tried to do that. If not, then it isn’t too late. . .
Last week the challenge was to REPENT—to feel remorse or regret for what you have done or for what you have failed to do. I asked you to work on feeding your eagle, the best part of yourself – by quieting your heart and your life – by listening and waiting – and by falling in love with Jesus all over again.
This, too, I hope you have taken the time to do. If not, then it’s not too late.
So now, let’s consider a third obstacle to deal with in our lives coming from this week’s readings – DOUBT: to be uncertain or skeptical about; to tend to disbelieve or distrust.
John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another. . .?”
John, as we heard, is in prison. John had put all his eggs in one basket preparing the way for the Lord – and now he is starting to doubt whether or not that chose the right basket! Perhaps Jesus ISN’T the one. . .
Jesus simply reassures John that he has made the right choice – the right commitment. And he should have no lingering doubts.
So let’s talk about doubt for a bit. . .
It is possible to get so immersed – so caught up in the false gods of the world --- that we fail to recognize the need to be saved. But everyone has a need for a savior – because everyone has the need to be saved from SOMETHING. . .
Have no doubt about it--- Jesus wants to be your savior. He can save you from your sins, from your fears, from your negativity, from your compulsions and addictions, from the bad relationship you are in – Jesus wants to be your savior.
But sometimes people get confused in thinking they can be saved by someTHING, rather than someONE. And that’s when the ways of the world can take over our lives:
buy this, and you just hae to have this, and be sure to get this while it is on sale --- having more stuff will make you happy!
A Christian dares to believe that Christ is the reality beyond and beneath and around all things: visible and invisible. And that Christ provides for us and loves us and blesses us AND saves us. . . Christ is the one who fulfills us and makes us happy ---- Have no doubt!
But let’s also talk about having doubts about who we are – or more precisely – doubts about who we are called to be.
We usually think of adolescence as the time to be figuring out who we are – and while a lot of identity work is done in the teenage years – we really spend our entire lives discovering and rediscovering who we are.
A big part of our identity comes form who we are in relationship with: so we are a wife – in relationship with a husband. We are a father – in relationship with our children. We are a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a parishioner, a student – all because we are in relationship.
But don’t forget – Christianity is not just a religion or a philosophy – but a relationship – and a way of life. . .
our relationship with Jesus Christ should be THE defining relationship we have – because it determines our conduct and character: it determines who we are or should be, our relationship with Christ determines what we stand for, the values we hold to to as a person.
Living out our identity as those who know Jesus is never a done deal ---- every day we need to discover anew who Jesus is – and then we make choices revealing to others the Jesus whom we have come to know.
Others either see us acting as Christ acted, speaking as Christ spoke, caring as Christ cared, loving as Christ loved, giving as Christ gave ----
Or they DO NOT. . .
Have no doubt about it – Jesus is the defining relationship in your life. Have no doubt about who you are and who you are called to be.
Finally, my brothers and sisters – heed the advice of my colleague, James, a pillar in the early church: BE PATIENT – with yourself AND with one another.
We are all works in progress – God isn’t quite finished with any of us just yet --- so be patient, and don’t complain. Lift each other up with words of encouragement. Be slow to judge and quick to forgive. . . And then the world, especially your little part of it --- will be a better place. AND DON’T FORGET TO REJOICE!
Brothers and sisters of St. Patrick – let me, Paul, your brother in Christ – start by just repeating what the great prophet John the Baptist said today in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repent: I know you have heard the word many times before – but have you ever taken the time to find out what it means??? To repent – means to feel remorse or regret – for what one has done or has failed to do. It has its origin in a Latin word which simply means: to be sorry.
You used those very words at the beginning of this Mass in the prayer known as the Confetior:
“I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. . .”
So repent and repentance are closely tied to another word you are used to hearing --- SIN -- so let’s talk about sin for a bit, although no one probably wants to do that. . .
When you listen to people these days – no one steals anything anymore – they simply LIFT something . . .
No one lies anymore ---- they simply misrepresent the facts.
No one commits adultery --- they simply fool around.
And no one kills an unborn baby – they simply terminate a pregnancy.
This way of talking is simply a clever, if not a dishonest way, of candy-coating the reality of sin. And sin is not something that should be candy-coated!!!
The concept of sin – when seen through the eyes of biblical writers is simply – missing the mark. . .
As when one is shooting an arrow at a target and misses – they miss the mark. The mark that we are supposed to be hitting with greater and greater accuracy throughout our lives --- is the mark of Jesus Christ ----
Christ sets the standard – and we are to follow in his footsteps --- and when we don’t talk or act like Jesus ---- we miss the mark – we sin.
Many people think that our spiritual maturity is measured by the amount of biblical information or the amount of doctrine one knows – or perhaps how often they are seen in church.
While all of those things are important – it isn’t the whole story.
The Christian life is far more than creeds and convictions and recited Biblical quotes – it includes most of all --- conduct and character. As Christians – our deeds must be consistent with our creeds --- and our beliefs must be backed up with Christ-like behavior.
Christianity is not just a religion or a philosophy --- but a relationship and a way of life. And at the core of this way of life is thinking and acting like Jesus. When we don’t do that – we miss the mark – we sin.
So how do we know what to do as Christians? Well, that’s why we should come to Church Sunday after Sunday – to be schooled in the ways of Christ:
To listen to Christ’s words.
To be transformed by consuming his body and blood.
To be strengthen and challenged by those who gather with us --- so all of us can leave this place renewed and recharged to live like Christ.
But again, you might ask – how do we know what to DO as Christians? Well just today, we were given some powerful words in the readings of Scripture to lead and guide us:
JUSTICE: if we care nothing about those who do not have the basic necessities of life, if we are only looking out for ourselves – then we miss the mark—we sin – in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.
FAITHFULNESS: when we stray from who we are called to be, when we don’t keep Christ at the center of our lives, when we choose to chase after the false values of the world rather than the values of the Gospel --- then we sin – we miss the mark.
ENCOURAGEMENT: when we are constantly critical of others, when we speak words that tear each other down rather than build each other up –
then we miss the mark – we sin – we are not thinking or acting like Christ.
HARMONY AND PEACE: when we argue, belittle, judge harshly, exclude rather than include – then we miss the mark – we sin.
WELCOME: when we are not open to new people or new ideas or situations – when we insist that this is the way things have always been and we are unwilling to change – then we sin – we miss the mark.
MERCY: when we are not as forgiving of others as Christ is forgiving of us, when we don’t accept people where they are and gently encourage them to be something more – then we miss the mark—we sin.
And these are just some of the things from today’s readings on just one particular Sunday. That is why we come to Church Sunday after Sunday to listen to God’s word –
to be schooled in the ways of the Gospel ---- to learn how to be more like Christ.
I think when you come right down to it – most of us know when we hit the mark – and when we don’t. Knowledge of what is right or wrong usually isn’t our problem --- but consistently choosing to do the right thing usually is. As I said in one of my other letters – even within myself – the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!
There is a story coming from your Native American culture that goes something like this:
There is a great battle that rages inside each one of us.
One side is the soaring eagle. Everything the eagle stands for is good and true and beautiful and right.
The eagle soars high above the clouds. Even though it dips down into the valleys – the eagle builds its nest on the mountaintops.
The other side within each of us – is the slithering serpent – the rattlesnake. That crafty, deceitful snake represents the worst aspects of a person – the darker side. The snake feeds upon one’s downfalls and setbacks --- and justifies itself by its presence in the slithering masses and messes of the world.
Who wins this great battle in my life or in yours??? None other than the one we feed the most – the eagle or the rattlesnake. . .
During these days of Advent, my brothers and sisters of St. Patrick ------ feed your eagle – by allowing Christ to move in and take possession of your heart, your will, your soul, your life.
Feed your eagle – by quieting your heart and your life – listen and wait – and fall in love with Christ all over again.
Feed your eagle - -by daring to believe that Christ is the reality beyond and beneath and around all things – visible and invisible ----
and that Christ provides for us and loves us and blesses us and saves us. . .
Feed your eagle – by repenting: by feeling remorse for what you have done and for what you have failed to do --- for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Until next week -- -I am affectionately your brother in Christ, Paul
After living in my house for over a year – I finally explored the crawl space under the house a couple of weeks ago --- on one of those warm days we were having. Relieved that I did not find any rodents, or none that I saw – I did come across a crate which contained some scrolls. These I will share with you over the next few weeks. Apparently, they are very lost letters of the great St. Paul. . . Here is the first.
Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – to the saints, that is the holy ones, who are in St. Patrick parish, and faithful to Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
For some time I have wanted to write to you – but much like your life – mine can be rather hectic – especially this time of year.
But establishing and maintaining relationships is important to me – so in spite of all the other things going on in my life – I am intentionally sitting here writing these lines to you – because you are precious to me. I hope you feel that way toward one another.
What a blessing for you to have a community of faith that gathers every week to spend time breaking open the Word of God and being nourished by the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I hope you do not take this time together forgranted and so do not easily excuse yourself from the table of the Lord. I do hope you make it a priority to nourish your relationship with the Lord, and one another, by gathering Sunday after Sunday.
Speaking of priorities – I thought it important for me to write to you at this time, during this season of Advent –
because if there is any time in which your Church life could and actually should be out of sync with what is going on in the world around you – it is now. . .
For in the world around you – it is one great push to Christmas – all of which started even before Halloween. So no wonder you are tired of hearing Christmas music well before the Holy Night even rolls around!! Much like the 2020 election – you’re ready for it all to be over with.
And the consistent messages you receive from the world these days are – to buy this, and you just have to have this to be happy, and be sure to get this while it is on sale. . .
Rush here, rush there - -go to this party and be sure not to miss this event. Bake this, decorate that, drive here, and be sure not to miss this. . .
All of this activity – why it’s enough to make your head spin and weary even the strongest among you!
And in the Church – it is ADVENT: a time of INTERIOR preparation for Christmas – a time of watching and waiting and anticipating and reflecting and longing --- all of which requires us to slow down and quiet ourselves. . . Not quite what the world is trying to get us to do. . .
How different these two ways of being are -- how tough it is to be a Christian during this time – how hard it is to keep the season of Advent!
So it is all about priorities – if you want to take the coming days of Advent to do what is important for your soul – rather than to get caught up in all the hustle of pre-Christmas shopping, sales, and socializing – then you have to quiet your heart and your life – you have to listen and wait: so that when Christmas does arrive --- you feel refreshed and renewed – instead of worn out and exhausted. And then Christ will have the space to move in and take possession of your heart, your will, your soul. >>
And you will be able to fall in love with Jesus all over again. . . THAT’S what this season is all about!
As I said, if you want to truly keep the season of Advent – then you have to be out of sync with the world. Tough stuff – but not impossible to do.
Because let me honest with you – the Christian IS supposed to be out of the sync with the world – because the world has completely different values than those of the Kingdom of God. If you need help figuring that out – then just read some of my other letters!
So to help you in your endeavors – each week, during Advent, as I continue to write to you – I will just ask you to consider one thing – >>
Not two or three – just one thing. . . actually asking you to consider ONE OBSTACLE – that if you can remove it from your life – it will allow you to make room in your heart for Jesus to come anew and dwell there.
This week, just in case I haven’t made the point clearly enough by now – is for you to stay awake – and pay attention – not to what the world is telling you or where it is trying to lead you --- but to what God wants to tell you and to where God may be quietly calling you to go ---
Turn inward—rather than running around outward. Take some time to get in touch with what is truly important to you – and hopefully that includes your relationship with God and those around you.
Stay awake!! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come – or how God will come into your life --- it may be in the stranger on the street – the outcast cousin that nobody invites to Christmas but maybe you should reach out to this year –
It may be your son or daughter who just wants to spend time with you – but never gets to ------ because you are always so busy.
If you don’t pay attention to the often times subtle ways God is trying to enter your life – you will miss God as surely as those in the days of Noah missed the signs that the flood was coming.
Spend these Advent days throwing off the works of darkness – this is the ways of the world – and putting on the armor of light – that is the light of Jesus Christ.
Until next week, I am affectionately your brother in Christ, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.
In our country, Thanksgiving is usually traced to 1621 when a pilgrim leader, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of feasting to commemorate the first harvest after a long year of suffering.
What you may not know is that, as the colonies grew more prosperous, the people forgot all about Thanksgiving – and the meaning it held for their ancestors. As a result, for generations Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, if at all, with no set date.
Then in 1822, Sarah Hale, a young widow from New Hampshire – who also gave us the nursery rhyme about a girl named Mary and her little lamb – decided to revive this important celebration.
Sarah, a mother of five children and an editor of a women’s magazine, began a 40 year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents to get Thanksgiving officially recognized as a national holiday.
Three presidents turned her down. But her obsession became a reality in 1863 – when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as an annual celebration of Thanksgiving.
Abraham Lincoln – of all people – and at all times. . .
I say that because his own life was at a very low ebb in 1863. Lincoln had already lost two of his four sons: Eddie died in 1850, and Willie had just died in 1862. Both deaths sent his wife, Mary, into a depression that could have easily resulted in her being institutionalized. But instead, Mary just spent money that neither the family – nor the country – could easily afford.
Having grown up in Kentucky and with relatives still there that Mary kept in weekly contact with – she was also investigated as a possible traitor to the Union – a process that Lincoln personally found to be bitterly wounding.
And of course in 1863 – the country was two years, and thousands of casualties – into a war which at its beginning, was anticipated to last only a few months – but would stretch on for another two years.
The country was literally falling apart, and Lincoln’s political future looked bleak. Many of the members of his own cabinet openly despised him and joked about him in public.
In the face of such personal and national circumstances, Lincoln’s call for a day of PRAYER would have made sense --- but THANKSGIVING??? At a time like this?? What must this man, who apparently had little to be thankful for – have been thinking??
Of the five people you get to meet in heaven according to Mitch Album’s book – I hope one of my five is Abraham Lincoln. He is certainly one of my historical heroes. Although a man who did not outwardly practice any faith consistently – he was a man who did consistently turn inwardly --- and had a deep spiritual side.
Perhaps he was just an extreme introvert cast into and extrovert’s role. . . who never quite got that figured out. . .
I think his deep spiritual side clearly showed in two ways in establishing Thanksgiving as a holiday.
First, I think he would agree with St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians: “rejoice in the lord always – I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Because no matter what is going on in our personal lives – no matter what we are facing no matter what is happening to us -- -there is always something we can find to rejoice about – even if it is only the fact that we are breathing in and out ---
Or we have food on the table – or a warm place to sleep at night – or a roof over our heads ---- because many DON’T.
We can at least rejoice because we have the gift of faith and a life-giving parish in which we can express it. Or maybe that a son or daughter is making it home from Afghanistan or another place in the world -- this year for Thanksgiving or Christmas
Rejoice always --- even in the midst of his personal darkness – Lincoln was able to see the light – and so should we!
And then perhaps, since this is just pure speculation – Lincoln possibly realized a second source of motivation for giving thanks –
Perhaps he remembered that the only house to make the newspapers – is the one that burns down. . . the other five hundred in the neighborhood that don’t burn – aren’t newsworthy.
Which is to say – to remember – and remember with gratitude – the everyday, ordinary heroes – and they are countless – that pass quite unnoticed and unheralded – but which are absolutely necessary to gentle lives – comfort hearts – and secure places of refuge – in this tumultuous world.
You know – those who show concern, serve, and care – day in and day out – those subtly planted seeds of faith, hope, and love – that someone puts quietly there every day that make a difference. That was true in 1863 – and it is true today.
For here, today, in 2019 – 156 years after Lincoln publicly declared this a national holiday: we would not have to look far or wide or long – to find reasons to be scared, or depressed or despaired. . .
Like Lincoln – we are sorely conflicted personally and nationally and within the Church --- and there can seem to be little reason to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. . .
But at least for a few moments this day – let’s lift our heads and hearts and gain a vision of two good reasons to be thankful – first, for all our personal troubles we may be experiencing – we are still blessed in many ways compared to the rest of the world.
And second, we have countless, selfless, quiet, taken-for-granted heroes who --- day in and day out – tirelessly shape our faith – rekindle our hope – and show us love. They are our promise of a better future.
For these admirable riches, O God, we do give you thanks!