A Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and many thanks for beginning your holiday with Mass this morning. You are among the faithful who celebrate a genuine Thanksgiving as did America’s founding pilgrims. We must never forget that America was founded by religious pilgrims, motivated more to worship God freely than material prosperity. Prosperity followed, but worship came first. They, and Presidents Washington and Lincoln after them, established Thanksgiving as a day of worship and sacred gratitude to God. America’s very first Thanksgiving took place at what is now St. Augustine in Florida, in 1565. The Spanish colonists offered a Mass in thanksgiving followed by a meal with the local Indians fifty years before the gathering at Plymouth Rock. The first act of thanksgiving on our soil was the Catholic Mass, the same Mass that we are offering on this Thanksgiving Day in 2016.
Earlier this month a homeless man died at his usual sleeping place at Funston and Clement. 700 people attended Thomas Myron Hooker’s funeral ten days later, and we finally laid him to rest in a proper burial site at Holy Cross in Colma on Tuesday. I signed all the papers as his next of kin and discovered that a standard burial costs $15,000, although of course you can spend a lot more. This cost was split three ways by our local funeral home, the Catholic cemetery, and this parish community, for which I am deeply grateful. Why all this outpouring of love for Thomas? So many have said they loved Thomas because for 30 years he brought a joyful smile to the streets of our Inner Richmond. And why did he smile? Because he was grateful to God for everything. He suffered from mental illness and the homelessness born of that sickness, but that did not stop him from smiling and thanking God. His thanksgiving brought light and joy to all the Richmond district.
Our National Holiday of Thanksgiving usually occurs in the very last week of the catholic liturgical year, when the readings speak of gloom and doom, the end of civilization as we know it. The Church permits pastors to have special “Thanksgiving” readings but I think it always best to hear the sobering biblical prophecies proper to this time of year, at the end of all things. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” we hear in our first reading from the book of the Apocalypse. “She has become a haunt for demons … because your merchants were the great ones of the world, all nations were led astray by you…” America is the most powerful nation on earth, but we risk forgetting that she is mighty precisely because she is Christian, because our first national act was that of Thanksgiving to God. Abraham Lincoln faced the end of the Republic in 1862 but was able to pull the nation back together with these words “The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. These bounties … are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”
St. John’s apocalypse is frightening, but ends with these words today: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” This Mass is that wedding feast, and your thanksgiving dinners today are joyful occasions because you first attended the supreme act of Thanksgiving, the Holy mass. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” Jesus says in the Gospel, “know that its desolation is at hand… But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” We thank God because our redemption has been accomplished, and no sorrow can undo the grace won for us by Jesus Christ.
President Lincoln was not a Catholic, nor even really a Christian, but he believed in a “beneficent” power greater than himself. May you enjoy the blessings of peace and joy with family and friends today, granted to those who put God first, thanking Him with grateful hearts. Thank Him by making a good confession this Advent, and going to Mass every Sunday, and every day if you can. Notice that the actual ritual of the sacrament of penance has the priest say “Give Thanks to the Lord, for He is good… and the penitent says “Thanks be to God.” All Christian prayer is fundamentally praise and thanksgiving to the giver of all gifts. With Our lady, we thank God, as is good stewards, from whom all blessings flow.