Offering thanks during a pandemic

A Thanksgiving reflection by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Thanksgiving Day was always my father’s favorite holiday. He loved it for many reasons, not the least of which was for the incredible meal my mother used to cook. I remember those days fondly; we began with a big breakfast, watched the same movie later that morning, and then we would sit at the table for hours. I delighted in that time with my family, in the traditions, and of course, in the food.

I’m sure many of us share very happy memories of Thanksgiving, which makes this year of the pandemic so much more troubling, knowing that we cannot safely gather in large numbers–even in our own homes with those who are dearest to us. In a year of much loss and anxiety, this is yet another heavy burden.

It may seem inappropriate to speak of giving thanks during a pandemic when so many have died, and so many others have become ill. However, I believe that only with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude in our hearts we can hope for better days and persevere before any challenge.

Perhaps we should let this most difficult year be an occasion to reflect on the full meaning of Thanksgiving in our lives. In my view, Thanksgiving is a holiday that draws upon deep Judeo-Christian religious roots. As Christians, ours is a faith of thanksgiving for the many gifts and blessings that God has given us. Everything we have, we owe to God’s love and providence. For Christians, a spirit of thanksgiving should be the foundation of every day of our lives.

In fact, the Eucharist, which we receive during the celebration of Holy Mass and we believe to be the source and summit of our Catholic faith, is derived from the Greek word, eucharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” This means that every time we attend Mass, we are invited to thank God the Father, through Jesus His son, for the gifts in our life, and the priceless gift of eternal life to come.

On a personal level the pandemic has disrupted our lives and caused us to feel anxiety. Yet we must not lose sight of the growing number of those who have felt the economic consequences of job loss that has led to growing homelessness, hunger, and even despair. As we experience this unexpected vulnerability, let us pray that it deepens our bonds with our sisters and brothers across the globe who have long faced daily uncertainty, including chronic unemployment, food instability and a lack of medical care.

It has also been a year in which many Catholics remain afraid or unable to attend Sunday Mass and those who do attend abide by significant restrictions designed to keep all safe. These precautions are necessary, but they are not easy, and I am very grateful to see such universal cooperation with the protocols that we have put in place to safeguard life.

We are also encouraged by the response of so many who have come forward to help those in need. In our diocese Catholic Charities has performed extraordinary works of service, parish volunteers have reached out to those who are most vulnerable, and our dedicated teachers and staff have kept diocesan schools open to safeguard our children. Likewise, every day, we witness the courageous and inspiring response of other faith traditions and all people of good will to help those in need.

As people of faith we believe God has remained present to us since the pandemic began. How can we look upon the faces of our brothers and sisters on the front lines of health care who each day run into the breach and not be overwhelmed with gratitude for their goodness and their courage? How can we look upon those who comfort the sick and their families and do everything possible to save lives without profound thankfulness for their very witness? How can we not see the face of God in them and all those who have acted with courage and compassion?

We must not forget that even in our moments of profound suffering and grief, the love of God, made manifest in the Eucharist and in the love of our brothers and sisters, will triumph over every challenge. We know that God does not desire for us to suffer. However, when we do, he is present with us, holding us in the palm of his hands and promising us that he will never let go. Knowing that God will always keep his promises, even in the face of all that I have just described, I remain overwhelmed with a deep sense of deep gratitude that God will bring us renewal and new life.

My friends, I know that there are many challenges ahead during the coming weeks. Yet I invite you to join me in pausing today not only to look forward in patient hope for the vaccines that will save millions of lives, but to remember that our God has not and never will abandon us.

As we sit down with loved ones this Thanksgiving—or perhaps gather together virtually—let us find reasons for gratitude, for therein lies our hope. Let us also pray for our own families and for those struggling with the hardship of separation this year, and most of all for those who are afflicted with Covid-19, and for the many in our midst who have suffered the loss of loved ones.

In this spirit of remembrance and gratitude, I wish you and your family a very healthy, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.