Are we as divided and troubled a nation as many commentators and polls seem to suggest?
Perhaps, though I certainly hope and pray not. When crisis or disaster strike, we as Americans seem to rapidly regain our common ground and overlook our differences. Our task is to live such unity every day of our lives.
This has been a particularly difficult year, and not simply because of our growing political differences. In recent months we’ve witnessed acts of terrorism in London, Barcelona, and more recently in New York City, and the unimaginable cruelty and violence of the shootings in Southerland Springs, Texas and Las Vegas. We have also watched as natural disasters devastated communities around the world: three deadly hurricanes, wildfires throughout the west of our nation, and earthquakes in Mexico. Our hearts and prayers are especially united with our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico who continue to face enormous obstacles as they try to rebuild their lives following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.
As I reflect on this seemingly unending series of disasters, particularly senseless human violence, my mind is filled with many questions. Why are we experiencing so many acts of mass violence? How can we give real hope to those who may have lost everything they owned due to natural disasters? Is there more we can do to help our brothers and sisters in their moment of need?
While many of these challenges defy the ability of a single person to address alone, there is one immediate response that we can all follow. It is to respond to what Jesus asks us in the Gospels: that we develop a true, forgiving heart in our ordinary life.
For we live in a time where offenses become grudges, grudges can lead to anger, and anger becomes the launch pad for violence, division, and polarization. The divisions that society wants us to accept exist in part because we choose not to love and respect each other, despite our differences. We forget that we all made in God’s image, and we are all sons and daughters of God.
Forgiveness begins by admitting the hurt that we have encountered, and allowing the person who has “wronged us” the ability to start again. Forgiveness allows us to prevent a person from enchaining us in the hurt that we have experienced at their hands. When we offend each other, we must not fall prey to grudges or anger. The only solution is to let it go. Only then can we change our society — one heart at a time.
If we do not rediscover the power of forgiveness, we will not enjoy the harmony and peace that the Lord wants to grant us. We will not unlock the power of generosity and service for those in need. In this divided and angry world, it is important now more than ever to rediscover what we have lost.
This year, more than ever, we should make Thanksgiving an opportunity to re-examine our common ground as Americans and as people of faith. Cultivating an attitude of thankfulness and forgiveness is at the core of the world’s great faiths and it is glue that holds our society together.
If we approach our neighbors with an open and grateful heart, we can begin to mend the deep wounds of our society. If we approach each day as an occasion to be grateful for every blessing God gives us, and we are willing to share those gifts with our neighbors around us, we can change the world.
Nothing symbolizes our unity more than people gathered around the table. Each day when the Church celebrates the Mass, we come together to offer the Eucharist, a Greek word that literally means “to give thanks.” Through grace, we join ourselves to the self-offering of Christ to His Father in His Death and Resurrection. As people of faith, we must never forget the power of the “table” to be a place of nourishment, dialogue and healing. It is at the table where we are all reminded of our essential human dignity.
As we gather for our Thanksgiving meal, let us remember the families who feel the absence of loved ones around their own Thanksgiving tables, particularly those whose lives were taken by war, terrorism and natural disasters. Our prayers extend to their families who now must cope with the loss and sorrow that many will carry for the rest of their lives.
In the face of so much trauma, let us learn to forgive those with whom we have argued. Let us mend the wounds that divide us. Let us also pledge to enlarge the meaning of Thanksgiving in our own hearts, which begins with the deepest sense of gratitude for the gift of our lives and the many blessings we receive — not just material things —but core spiritual values we celebrate as Americans and live in our faith.
The Most Rev. Frank J. Caggiano was named Bishop of Bridgeport by Pope Francis in 2013. You can read his reflections on Facebook: Bishop Frank J. Caggiano