By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
We are in the midst of our annual Thanksgiving weekend which is a unique opportunity as individuals, families, communities and nation to pause in gratitude for the blessings of the past year. This is a challenge for many of us because we find ourselves so often on automatic pilot attending to the demands of each day, while anticipating the tasks of the immediate future.
These responsibilities can leave us worn out by day’s end, simply grateful that the day is over, completely overlooking the blessings along the way. The spirit of thanksgiving can also be difficult for those who are experiencing the death or serious illness of a family member or friend, or a serious loss in other parts of their lives.
Sometimes Thanksgiving, and the accompanying spirit of joy, are not possible because of a past that is not yet reconciled in God. It is difficult to be grateful if sin is weighing heavily upon us. Likewise, the darkness of deadly random violence or terrorism, can leave us feeling shaken or fearful. These are not fictions of our imagination, but elements of reality that can erode our faith, hope, and love.
Whatever the reason or reasons that prevent us from easily offering thanks, we know that Jesus Christ our King is inviting us to open our hearts and minds to a deeper experience of life that allows the light of faith to illuminate our daily struggles.
He stands knocking at the door (Revelations 3,20) hoping that he can enter and have a meal with us. Thanksgiving, a time when we are much more mindful of family and friends, is as good a time as any to dine with the Bread of Life.
Let us also call this to mind, that as Christians we are blessed to begin the season of Advent that annually emerges from our Thanksgiving celebration. The Lord not only stands at the door knocking on occasion, but as we know in faith, he is always near. The prayer of Advent to hasten the coming of the Lord, is one to be offered in season and out of season.
“Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelations 20:22) If this is the only prayer we can offer during troubled times, then it is sufficient. He is our joy and peace. This splendid season of four weeks, easily consumed by the rush to Christmas, is a gift for each of us to be thankful for the presence of our Lord through faith. The Word of God at every turn reminds us that fear is useless; what is needed is trust. (Luke 8:20)
This is grounded in the conviction that the Lord is always near, and out of this assurance we can say with Saint Paul, “rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your request knows to God.” (Philippians 4:4-6)
Pope Francis has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to begin on December 8, and continue through the Feast of Christ the King, 2016. The mercy of God is always possible in our lives because the Lord is always near. He is Emmanuel, with us and for us, forever. This is the prism that can invite us into a Year of Favor from the Lord, renewing our faith, strengthening our hope, and enflaming our love to be faithful witnesses to his abiding presence in our lives and in our world.
Sacramentally we see his presence in the Eucharist, the promise to be with us until the end of time, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the pledge of peace flowing from God’s mercy, removing the shackles that liberate us to be faithful disciples of the Lord.
The love of Jesus Christ compels us to live our lives by a different standard. Each time we open our eyes in the morning this gift and call is before us. How we respond in service to our families, our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, the stranger, the refugee, and in fact even our enemies, is the work that each of us has to build up the Kingdom of God. May the Lord inspire us during these days of Thanksgiving and Advent to be grateful, to be hopeful, to be joyful, to be less fearful, and more at peace knowing that the Lord Jesus is always near. Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz