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Give thanks and share your blessings

Archbishop Wenski's column for the November 2018 edition of the Florida Catholic

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“Thanksgiving Day” is as American as apple pie — or perhaps we should say “pumpkin pie.” Thanksgiving is not a holy day of obligation, not a religious holy day; but rather a civic holiday. Yet Thanksgiving has deep religious roots — for America was founded by successive waves of immigrants who beginning with those pilgrims in Massachusetts came seeking freedom. And at the foundation of all the freedoms we enjoy in this country is religious freedom and freedom of conscience. In the words Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress in September 2015, they “came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.”

Of course, Americans like to consider ourselves as “self-made” men and women. We pride ourselves on having raised ourselves up by our own bootstraps. And the immigrants and refugees who came here share that same narrative whether we are of Irish, Italian, Polish or Cuban descent. But we should not forget that while we had to work hard for our success, we were given many opportunities.

Thanksgiving is a day to acknowledge that we are not the self-made people we sometimes think we are. Everything we have, who we are, we have received from others — our parents and grandparents, our teachers and mentors, our spouses and friends, and ultimately God. We are what we have received, not as entitlements but as gifts. Whether these gifts came as a “hand out” or a “hand up” doesn’t matter as much as our gratitude in acknowledging these gifts before God. And this gratitude should inspire us who have received freely to share these blessings freely with others.

Again, when Pope Francis spoke to Congress three years ago, he reminded our lawmakers, “…thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

Unfortunately, today in this “nation of immigrants” too many of us perceive the new immigrants as “troublesome.” Immigration has become in American politics a “wedge issue” with both left and right content with a stalemate that allows each side to appeal to their “base” — in the meantime, a broken immigration system continues to disrupt lives, divide families and steal hope away from those who dream of “building a future in freedom” for themselves and their children.

“To whom much has been given, much will be asked.” These are Jesus’ words – and they call forth from us a response. We are a nation of plenty in a world of want; we are a republic of treasured freedoms in a world in which too many people are denied their basic rights; we are a land of many opportunities in a world in which so many see no future of hope.

As we give God thanks for the freedoms and opportunities that we Americans enjoy in this country — a country that has been described “as a nation with the soul of a church” — we pray that we will become a more just and fraternal nation, a nation that is not afraid of the foreigner because we too were once foreigners.

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