Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Introduction Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect upon our life and to be deeply grateful.As we review the past year, with its joys and sorrows, we become ever more deeply conscious of the truth that everything, all that we are and have,is God’s gift to us.Our reflection ultimately centers on the gift of life itself and the gift of Catholic faith, which reveals the true meaning of our life.We did not call ourselves into being.It was God and our parents, working together with God, who brought us to life.We did not create ourselves or the many goods of nature in our care.We are not the creators of life and of nature.God is.We are His stewards, and we are most grateful to be so. Too easily, especially in the fast pace of life today, we do not take time to reflect and, as a result, we forget who we are, from whom we came and to whom we will return.When we forget, we are also ungrateful.Thanksgiving Day is our annual time to rest and reflect, to open our minds and hearts to the truth about God, ourselves and our world, and to be filled with deepest gratitude that God has called us to life and has given us the gift of faith, by which we also become His co-workers in the world. Holy Mass Participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is our most perfect way of thanking God.At the Holy Mass, we bring ourselves totally, that is, all that we are and have, to God the Father, offering ourselves — with and in His divine Son — to Him in praise and thanksgiving.The very word, Eucharist, comes from the Greek word for giving thanks.The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Holy Eucharist is, first of all, an act of thanksgiving: "The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all His benefits, for all that He has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’" (n.1360). In the Holy Mass, we express the profound truth which is the source of our endless gratitude to God: We bring to God the Father all that we are and have, all His gifts to us, so that He may bless them and transform them by the saving grace of His Son’s sacrifice.By His holy cross, Christ has redeemed the world, as we pray at the beginning of each station as we make the way of the cross.By the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Christ’s saving work on Calvary continues, is always new, transforming us and our world. When our hearts are full of gratitude, we are drawn to the Holy Eucharist, to participation in the Holy Mass, to visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and to eucharistic devotion and worship.At the same time, when we are united to Christ in His sacrifice and when we are in His real presence, praying before the tabernacle or the exposed Blessed Sacrament, our hearts grow in gratitude to God.We recognize ever more fully the greatness of God’s love for us, to which we can only respond with a heart full of thanks. One of the principal fruits of the Year of the Eucharist should be a more consistently grateful heart in all of us.The more we come to know our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the more we come to know ourselves as true sons and daughters of God.We are filled with gratitude to be sharers in God’s work, in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, and we receive the grace to express our gratitude by the way in which we pour out ourselves and our gifts in the service of God and one another. All of the above explains why participation in Sunday Mass is the heart and the apex of our life as Christians.Through participation in Sunday Mass, we grow in the knowledge and love of God and, therefore, grow in thanksgiving to Him. Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap: Hero of thanksgiving The servant of God, Father Solanus Casey of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, is a wonderful teacher of thanksgiving for us.Father Casey was born on Nov. 25, 1870, near Prescott, Wis. (his day of birth must have been close to Thanksgiving Day); was ordained a priest in the Capuchin order on July 24, 1904; and died at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit on July 31, 1957.Although he was beset by many personal limitations which almost kept him from ordination to the priesthood, he was a more effective spiritual director for many and was tireless in serving the poor.At his death, he had already the reputation of heroic holiness of life.There has been a consistent devotion to Father Solanus since the time of his death. It is centered around his tomb at St. Bonaventure Monastery. If you wish to learn more about Father Solanus, you may write to: the Father Solanus Guild, 1789 Mount Elliott Ave., Detroit, MI 48207.Also, I recommend two biographies of the servant of God: Michael Crosby, OFM Cap, ed. Solanus Casey: The Official Account of a Virtuous American Life (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2000); and Catherine M. Odell, Father Solanus: The Story of Solanus Casey, OFM Cap (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1995). Thanksgiving stands out among all of the many virtues practiced so heroically by Father Solanus.He was filled with gratitude to God and loved to spend hours in the chapel, thanking God, even by playing his fiddle before the tabernacle.His principal instruction to the many who sought his spiritual counsel was to thank God at all times.He also taught them to anticipate God’s blessings with a grateful heart.In a letter to a woman who was experiencing much anxiety and suffering from a sense of failure, he wrote: "Let us thank [God] at all times and under whatever circumstances.Thank Him for our creation and our existence, thank Him for everything — for His plans in the past that by our sins and our want of appreciation and patience have so often been frustrated and that He so often found necessary to change.Let us thank Him for all His plans for the future — for trials and humiliations as well as great joy and consolations; for sickness and whatever death He may deign to plan. "Therefore we should thank Him frequently for, not only the blessings of the past and present, but thank Him ahead of time for whatever He foresees is pleasing to Him that we suffer.We should do this not only in general but in each particular case" (Michael H. Crosby, OFM Cap, Thank God Ahead of Time: The Life and Spirituality of Solanus Casey, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985, p. 269). Father Solanus truly imitated our Lord’s attitude of thanksgiving to the Father and readiness to do whatever the Father asks with a grateful heart. Thanksgiving and stewardship On Nov. 12, I was blessed to celebrate the Mass for the 15th annual Catholic Family Life Awards.At the awards ceremony following the Mass, Catholic Family Services of our archdiocesan Catholic Charities recognized seven families for their outstanding service of family life.Each couple who received the award spoke briefly to us.Practically every couple stated that receiving the award only reminded them of how much more they are called by God to do.All of the couples expressed deepest gratitude for the privilege of serving God by building up family life.And they all expressed their esteem for many others in their parishes, who are doing so much for families.All of the awardees gave a striking testimonial to stewardship as the way of our Christian life. It is in the family, most of all, that we achieve our self-identity.The family teaches a child to recognize his or her life as a gift and forms the child in the way of stewardship of the gift of life and of all God’s gifts.One of the lessons which I most remember from my growing up was my father’s insistence that we children make a weekly offering to the Church.Not having very much, I tended to be a bit stingy and wanted to save all that I had.I can still hear my father saying how much God blesses us when we are generous with Him, even if we have very little. Thanksgiving Day and the days surrounding the celebration are a good time to reflect upon our efforts to teach our children good stewardship.There is a strong tendency today to think that everything is owed to us.Sometimes, in our effort to provide every good thing for our children and young people, we fail them by not teaching them to be grateful.Young people especially can be tempted to believe that they are entitled to God’s many gifts.The sense of entitlement does not inspire gratitude.It discourages stewardship.One of the greatest lessons which my parents taught me was that all is a gift and not to take anything for granted.It was reflected, for instance, in the discipline of always writing a note of thanks to anyone who was especially kind to us or gave us a gift.We do a great disservice to our children by not teaching them to be grateful and to be good stewards. Let us strive to make our homes schools of thanksgiving and stewardship.Fidelity to Sunday Mass will be the heart of a home which is filled with gratitude.It also will inspire the use of God’s gifts to His glory and for the service of our neighbor. Thanksgiving for the gift of life Reflecting upon the habit of thanksgiving which we should always cultivate, I draw your attention once again to the critical challenge which the state of Missouri faces in the coming months.The Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative will be working diligently to have placed on the ballot for next November a referendum to give citizens of Missouri the right to destroy innocent and defenseless human life at its beginning through embryonic stem-cell research and so-called "therapeutic" cloning.In last week’s edition of the St. Louis Review, I wrote about the matter at length.If you did not take the time to read my column of Nov. 11, I ask you, for the sake of our most tiny and defenseless brothers and sisters, to read it now.None of us can justify remaining ignorant of a matter which means life or death for a brother or sister. On this coming Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, your parish priest will be presenting to you the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life from the moment of its inception, a most fitting teaching as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord, who, in His all-gracious love, took our human nature by His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary.As we reflect on how the life of our Lord began in the womb of Mary, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, we recognize that He, like each of us, was once a tiny embryo.Our Lord has redeemed human life in its totality, in every stage of its development.We must, then, do all that we can to stop the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, to protect our brothers and sisters who have no one else to protect them. Following your parish priest’s homily on the First Sunday of Advent, an educational session will be provided in your parish or, perhaps, through a number of parishes.Please take the time to participate in the educational session. Also, many helpful educational materials, which are scientifically accurate and easy for us to read, are available through the Respect Life Apostolate.If you have any difficulty in obtaining educational materials, please call my office.Please take the time to acquaint yourself with some of these excellent materials. Life is God’s first gift to us.We are not the creators of life.We are the stewards of this most treasured gift.Nature herself teaches us that the first precept of the law which God has written in our hearts is the safeguarding and fostering of all human life.As we give thanks to God for His many gifts, let us work with constant vigor to safeguard and promote all human life, from inception to natural death.Let us not fail to do all that we can to transform the culture of death in our society and to create a civilization of life.In a particular way, let us work to stop the latest manifestation of the culture of death in our state of Missouri, the initiative to obtain the constitutional guarantee of the right to attack innocent and defenseless human life. Conclusion This year, we, members of Christ’s Mystical Body, give special thanks for the more than 26 years of service of our late and beloved Pope John Paul II, whom our Lord has called to Himself.May God grant to him the reward of his tireless pastoral labors on our behalf. At the same time, we thank God for providing us a new successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI.May God bless him with many and happy years of service as shepherd of the universal Church. Finally, I express my own deepest gratitude to God for all the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, whom He, in His immeasurable goodness, permits me to serve as archbishop.Thanksgiving Day is a time for me to reflect on all of the many gifts with which God has blessed me.Most of all, I thank him for sending me to you and for all you do to assist me in shepherding His flock in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. May God bless you with a grateful and generous heart always.

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