Thanksgiving day is one of the most significant, well-celebrated and cherished holidays in the states in which people travel coast to coast, even across the globe, to celebrate this joyous occasion with families, share a laugh or three, watch football, engage in conversation (silly or not), gather at table for dinner (turkey is a must), pause for a moment, count our blessings and tell everyone how blessed (with the capital B) they are, indeed.
It is a special time to acknowledge God’s providence for the wondrous blessings received in ways mysterious as it is a commonly held belief that even if we work, by the sweat of our brow in order to make both ends meet, God is the ultimate source and provider of all. But now, it’s slowly changing. People give a different impression, I suspect. It seems that society signals that this annual tradition is a secular event and not primarily religious. A friend of mine once told me that when she was still applying for a scholarship in an ivy league, she prayed persistently, recited novenas, interceded to the saints, asked for a miracle and visited churches. But, after getting accepted, she confessed, she lost her faith in a tough secular environment and began arguing against the church’s teaching. It may be tragic and even, dramatic but it’s nothing new to me. This is exactly the premise of the modern age. It will take me away from anything unseen, lure me to the present moment and not look beyond.
When the pilgrims arrived and settled in, they were grateful not for themselves nor their ability to survive under the brutal and depressing winter but humbly, bowed in adoration before God for the safety of their travels, for the warm hospitality of the natives, for the generous sharing of food and for the friendship in particular. The fourth thursday of November is an important reminder that gratitude is part and parcel of the American dream.
In my two year stay in Chicago, thanksgiving dinner was spent with the Sebayan, Villaverde and Salgado families, together with Frs. Ricky and Ed, the so-called inseparables. I, for one was again caught up in my typical shyness as I thought it was exclusively a family gathering, outsiders not allowed sort of thing. But since they graciously welcomed us with wide open arms, I dined. In Tucson, I never quite managed to fix my own dinner, I just waited to be invited, instead. After the thanksgiving Mass in the parish, I savor the solitary tone of the parish premises, including the rectory, as usual.
To give thanks to God has been the habit of my heart and the tenor of my soul. Gratitude is my moral compass. Quite frankly, early in life, I have developed a religious discipline of making the sign of the cross as soon as I became aware it was a brand new day and just before settling down, I would do it in a similar fashion. I’m continually grateful not only for the good things that come along the way but for everything, including the adversities because I know my life is in God’s hands.
I thank the Lord, for the inner struggle of waking up early in the morning, for saying Mass in an hour of the day not to my liking, for preaching like a broken record, for my daily correspondence, for the stress and tension of being a public figure, for the whole mess I may have created, for success and failure, for nice and mean people, for the ones I love and don’t, including the unintentionally ignored, for the lady who told me I suck, for those who broke my heart, for the people who love me just the way I am and lastly, for helping me keep the faith and never doubt my capacity from time immemorial.
Every single occurrence in my life (good and bad) is an invitation to draw closer to God. And whenever that encounter with the divine happens either in idle moments, rush hour, or in solitude, it changes me as a person and that’s where the rubber meets the road. Win or lose, life goes on…
Whether thanksgiving is spent with the family, in the company of friends and strangers, at work, in a fast food down the road, behind bars, in a hospital bed or in the living room of a rectory, what matters is the awareness that every fiber of life, from the tiniest, microscopic cell to the largest part of the anatomy, belongs entirely to God.