Friday, November 28, 2014

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation, from the first president

Following a resolution of Congress, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” Reflecting American religious practice, Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of the republic have from time to time designated days of fasting and thanksgiving (the Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate in November was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941).

Thanksgiving Proclamation
Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

Most of us know the story.

It was the autumn of 1621. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, after a rich harvest, the men, women and children who had survived the first year in the New World gathered for a feast to offer thanks.

One of the pilgrims wrote at the time: “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”

What was it like? I did a little Googling and found that the menu for that first Thanksgiving had some surprises. It was not necessarily turkey and pumpkin pie. Historians think they probably ate fowl and venison – or deer. The pilgrims didn’t have forks, but used spoons. More likely, they ate with their hands. And the food was probably a lot more fatty than we are used to. Cholesterol was unheard of. They were more worried about plague and the pox.

They didn’t have much sugar, so sweets and deserts were probably not on the menu. So, you can forget the pumpkin pie.

Whatever it may have involved, that meal left us with an enduring tradition: a gathering around a table, giving thanks for surviving in an uncertain and difficult new place.

But a few years ago, the Unitarian minister Peter Fleck suggested we look at this differently.

Maybe, he wrote, the pilgrims weren’t thankful because they had survived.

But maybe they had survived…because they were thankful.

These were people who lived their lives in wonder and hope, grateful for everything: the hard winds and deep snows…the frightening evenings and hopeful mornings …the long journey that had taken them to a new place. They knew how to express gratitude.

Gratitude doesn’t always come easily. We all know that generosity – the giving of a gift – means thinking more about others than about yourself. It represents an act of love. But so does being thankful. To give thanks is to extend yourself. It is to remember where the gift came from.

It is to go out of your way to acknowledge that — like the one cured leper in the gospel, who changed the direction he was headed, and walked back to Jesus, all the way back from the temple, to thank him.

There is love in that. A love for the gift – and for the one who gave it.

Reverend Fleck suggested that maybe that is what enabled the pilgrims to thrive and prosper: a humble appreciation for whatever God gave them, trusting that He would give them what they would need. It’s an optimistic message, really — and gratitude, I think, carries a spirit of optimism. Maybe that spirit can teach us something, as we endure our own hard winds and deep snows – the storms of our own lives. Especially now.

Thanksgiving will be a time for family, and for celebration.

But I know it won’t be that way for everyone.

Thanksgiving isn’t about giving thanks for having a lot. It’s about giving thanks for just having. For being. For knowing that whatever we have, whether it is served on a china plate or a Styrofoam carton, it is all a gift. The prayers whispered over a Happy Meal are just as precious to God as the ones said over the turkey and stuffing.

And all of us, no matter where we find ourselves praying, will be bound together by one simple word: grace. At a few McDonald’s this Thanksgiving, I’m sure that grace will be said.

And, I am just as sure of this: that grace will be present.

The grace of gratitude. The grace of thanking God for whatever gift He gives. And in the giving, and in the receiving, and in the thanking, there is something that transcends time and place.

There is love.

Love for what we have, and love for what we have been given. And love for the God who gives it. Because no matter how fierce the winds, or how unforgiving the storm, at least on this day we all remember that God is near.

The pilgrims knew that. And so did the Samaritan. He lived a life of disfigurement and shame. But he trusted, and he listened, and he was healed — changed forever, made new.

He could have gone on his way. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He had to thank The One who made his miracle possible.

Twenty centuries later, that anonymous figure left us a legacy, and a lesson: a beautiful example of what it means to have an “attitude of gratitude.”

It is an attitude we all need to nurture — not just today, but every day. Gratitude can open our hearts – and change our lives – if only we let it.

Or, as Reverend Fleck so beautifully put it: maybe the pilgrims weren’t thankful because they survived.

Maybe they survived…because they were thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Pre-Thanksgiving Prayer

Tomorrow, Lord,
we'll overeat and drink too much,
we'll stuff ourselves like turkeys
and joke about how much we've had
and how there's no room left for more...

And then for several days - the turkey sandwiches:
what we call left-overs
some would think a feast...

Tomorrow, Lord,
we'll eat all day and night
while others go for days and weeks,
their cupboards bare and empty...

Let this week not pass until
I find or fund a way to feed the ones
whose tables never groan as mine
beneath the weight of too much food and drink...

For those who hunger all year 'round
help me do more this week than pray, Lord:
may I give thanks for all I have
by finding ways to share it with the poor...

Open my heart as wide as my mouth
and let my charity flow as wine is poured:
freely, gladly, to the brim
to share with others, Lord, the best
of all that I've been given...


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Tunes

"God's dream for you is not based on what you can do, what you have done, what you haven't done, or where you have been. It is all based on Him. There is a higher story going on. God is bringing the world to Himself through His Son and He is allowing you to be a part of that. Everything else in life is about that, and if you will allow Him to bring your dreams toward Him, you will see some big things in your life."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Marianist Monday

”The honor of Mary is so intimately connected with the honor and glory of Jesus that to deny the one is at the same time a denial of the other.”
                                                                                                  --Blessed William Joseph Chaminade

Mary was the instrument of Christ's first miracle, or sign, that He was what He claimed to be, the Son of God. In the temple when Christ was presented to God and in the Jordan when He was baptized, Our Lord received His Father's blessing and sanction to begin His work of Redemption. At Cana, He received the assent of His human parent.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, noticed the dwindling supply of wine before anyone else. Without a second thought, she turned to the one person she knew could help: Her Son. She said to Him, "They have no wine left." 

It was not a personal request; she was already a mediatrix for all who were seeking the fullness of joy. She has never been just a spectator, but a full participant willingly involving herself in the needs of others. Mary used a power generated by mutual love. Christ answered his mother's request with what almost seems like a rebuke on the surface.

Woman, what is that to Me and to you?
My Hour is not yet come.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Praying for those who pray for us…

Praying for those who pray for us…

As our friends in Summit are reminding us, Pope Francis says today, November 21, is a day to thank God for cloistered religious: At the end of today’s general audience, Pope Francis noted that this Friday, Nov. 21, is the liturgical Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Noting the Church will celebrate the Day pro Orantibus, dedicated to cloistered religious communities, he said, “It is an opportune occasion to thank the Lord for the gift of so many persons that, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and in onerous silence, acknowledging in Him that primacy that belongs only to Him.”

I particularly like what Father Roger Landry has written about the concept of praying for our monastic prayer warriors. Recounting a speaking engagement before which everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong, he says:

The priests gave me warm applause at the end and then launched into a vigorous question-and-answer period in which they seemed to have actually gotten something out of the talk.

After it was all over, the Archbishop told me that he was stunned that I could speak for so long with no notes, no ahs, and so much poise and clarity. When I told him what had happened prior to the talk and stated that the fact that it wasn't a complete cataclysm had to be miraculous, he said with a smile, “Well, someone must have been praying for you!”

When I recounted the story to my Dominican friend, she interjected, “You know, the Archbishop was right.” She told me that the nuns of her cloistered monastery in Summit, New Jersey, had all been praying for me with perpetual adoration and perpetual Rosary leading up to and throughout the time of the clergy days.

She then said that, as nuns of the Order of Preachers, they regularly pray for me whenever they know I’m traveling to preach and teach. They place written notices on a prayer board outside their chapel so that all of them can pray for the intentions confided to them, she continued, and stressed that they take this responsibility quite seriously.

“You’ll never know until heaven,” she told me, “how much of the fruit you bear is due to our prayers for you.”

Since that conversation I’ve become much more aware that all of my priestly work, including writing columns like this, is assisted by the prayers of the nuns and so many contemplatives who in this world I may never meet.

I think I know that nun! And I completely concur with his conclusion:

We’ll never know until heaven how many of the graces we’ve received — and disasters we’ve averted — have taken place on account of their incessant prayers.

It is true. Let us today thank God for the monastics who prayerfully intercede for all of us, and do so gladly.

Today seems like a good time, too, for a some Nun News from some cloisters!

The Norbertine Canonesses (that’s them at the top of the post) have just welcomed their 32nd sister — obviously they need a new picture! And, by the way, if you want to order their incredibly fresh and full Christmas wreaths, time has almost run out to do so! Their last shipping date is November 28th, so email your order!

Two new Benedictine novices were clothed at St. Walburga’s Abbey, in Colorado. And the Benedictines of Mary, in Missouri clothed another novice while receiving three for first profession

The Summit Dominicans have welcomed two new postulants, and having just celebrated the solemn profession of one young nun, they are preparing for another one on January 1.

The Dominican Nuns of Menlo Park also have a new postulant, who has gone from “the bar to the grille”. Great line.

The Poor Clares of Bethlehem Monastery in Virginia appears to be bursting with new vocations.

Just yesterday, the Byzantine nuns at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery welcomed a second postulant to their community. A third hopes to enter but needs help with student debt before that can happen.

The busy novitiate at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, has clothed another postulant.

Let us remember, today, to pray for those who pray for us!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vocation to holiness

From his General Audience:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning.

A great gift of the Second Vatican Council was to have retrieved a vision of the Church founded on communion, and to have also embodied the principle of authority and hierarchy in this context. This has helped us to better understand that all Christians, as baptized, are equal in dignity before God and are united by vocation, which is to holiness (cf. Const. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). Now we ask: what does this universal call to holiness consist of? And how can we achieve it?

1. First, we must bear in mind that holiness is not something that we can procure for ourselves or obtain with our quality and our skills. Holiness is gifted to us by the Lord Jesus, when He takes us up with Him and clothes us in Himself, making us like Him. In the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says that “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”(Eph 5.25 to 26). There, holiness truly is the most beautiful face of the Church, the most beautiful face: it is rediscovering ourselves in communion with God, in the fullness of His life and His love. It is understandable, then, that holiness is not the prerogative of only a few: holiness is a gift that is offered to all, without exception, so that it constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.

2. All of this helps us to realize that the call to holiness is not just for bishops, priests or religious … No. We are all called to become saints! So often, we are tempted to think that holiness is granted only to those who have the opportunity to break away from the ordinary tasks, to devote themselves to prayer. But it is not so! Some people think that holiness is closing your eyes and putting on a pious face… No! That is not holiness! Holiness is something greater, more profound that God gifts us. Indeed, it is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints. And everyone in the particular condition and state of life in which they find themselves. Are you consecrated? Be holy living your gift and your ministry with joy. Are you married? Be holy loving and taking care of your husband or your wife, as Christ did with the Church. Are you a baptized person who is not married? Be holy performing your work with honesty and competence and giving time to the service of others. “But, father, I work in a factory … I work as an accountant, always with the numbers, I cannot be a saint there…” – “Yes, you can! There, where you work you can become a saint. God gives you the grace to become a saint. God communicates with you.” Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by passionately teaching your children or grandchildren to know and follow Jesus. And this takes a lot of patience, to be a good parent, a good grandfather, a good mother, a good grandmother, it takes a lot of patience and this patience is the holiness exercising patience. Are you a catechist, educator or volunteer? Be holy by becoming a visible sign of God’s love and His presence beside us. This is it: every state of life leads to holiness, always! At home, on the streets, at work, at church, in the moment and with the state of life that you have, a door is opened on the road to sainthood. Do not be discouraged to travel this road. God gives you the grace to do so. And this is all that the Lord asks, is that we are in communion with Him and serve others. If lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of others.

3. At this point, each of us can examine our conscience, we can do it now, everyone answering for himself, inside, in silence: So far how have we responded to God’s call to holiness? But do I want to improve, to be a better Christian? This is the path to holiness. When the Lord calls us to be saints, he does not call us to something hard or sad… Not at all! It is an invitation to share His joy, to live and offer every moment of our lives with joy, at the same time making it a gift of love for the people around us. If we understand this, everything changes and takes on a new meaning, a beautiful meaning, to begin with the little everyday things.