Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday, is quickly approaching. And while it is usually celebrated in non-religious ways, there is a truth present at its heart that Father Jacques Philippe calls “one of the secrets of the spiritual life that also is one of the laws of happiness.”
This underlying truth is the “more we cultivate gratitude and thanksgiving, the more open our hearts are to God’s action, so that we can receive life from God and be transformed and enlarged. By contrast, if we bury ourselves in discontent, [in] permanent dissatisfaction, then our hearts close themselves insidiously against life, against God’s gift” (The Way of Trust and Love, p. 112).
In other words, if we want to be transformed by God’s grace, then expressing our gratitude should be something we do daily, not just once a year on Thanksgiving. Ultimately, we do this as Catholics in the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. To begin each morning simply calling to mind what I am grateful for and offering thanks to the Father cultivates the virtue of gratitude.
In that spirit, I would like to offer four things from 2019 that I am thankful for as Archbishop of Denver.
The strength the faithful have shown in their defense of the faith in the public square.
People of faith are facing numerous challenges in the public square. This past year, I was encouraged to see so many people turn out to oppose the state legislation aimed at promoting agenda-driven changes to the sex education curriculum used in public schools. So many people showed up to testify at the committee hearing that it lasted until the early hours of the morning.
I am also grateful that Initiative 120, which will allow abortions only before 22 weeks, has been approved for signature collection. Colorado has some of the most permissive laws surrounding abortion and this has led to thousands of children losing their lives, even those who could survive outside the womb. If it’s approved for the ballot, Initiative 120 will give Coloradans a chance to protect innocent children, and I am grateful for that.
The fruit borne by the apostolates based in the archdiocese.
Every chance I get to attend one of FOCUS’ conferences, I do so. The reason I love going to these gatherings is that they inspire hope in me for the future of the Church. Very few people could have imagined that 21 years after its founding FOCUS would be bringing Christ to students on over 100 college campuses. I experience the same hope for the future when I encounter people from the diverse communities growing in deeper faith through Centro San Juan Diego, the Augustine Institute, Endow, Amazing Parish, Real Life Catholic, Families of Character, the Denver Catholic Biblical and Catechetical Schools, and our two seminaries, just to name a few of the many apostolates and movements based in our archdiocese. In these I see the Lord’s promises fulfilled, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me… By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn. 15:4, 8).
The opportunity for healing presented by the Independent File Review and Reparations Program.
Though deeply painful, I am grateful for the Independent File Review and Reparations Program that have been made public this year. During the Masses of Reparation and Healing that I held at the Cathedral during the year, I met people who were profoundly impacted by sexual abuse at some point in their life, some by clergy, but many by others not connected to the Church.
The File Review report and these encounters with victims have further underscored the importance of working to bring justice to those who have been hurt. I am grateful that the Church can do this through the Reparations Program, but also for the chance to see Christ’s grace healing the wounded and bringing about forgiveness.
The Church’s loving service to the poor and suffering through Catholic Charities’ ministries, such as Marisol, our emergency shelters, and St. Raphael’s Counseling.
Pope Francis frequently emphasizes the need to bring the Gospel to the poor and marginalized, just as Jesus did in his ministry. This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the seven ministries of Catholic Charities that bring the love of Christ to those in need.
Over the past year, our Marisol Homes and Marisol Health clinics served more than 2,000 needy clients, and as a result of their care, 70 babies were born. Many of these clients also received help with housing and counseling.
At a time when faithful mental health care can be hard to find, St. Raphael’s counseled almost 650 clients and provided guidance to over 800 students in our schools.
Finally, I am thankful for our shelters in Denver, Greeley and Ft. Collins, which provided a safe and warm place for the homeless to stay on more than 182,000 nights. This is truly serving Christ under what St. Mother Teresa called, “the distressing disguise of the poor.”
May this Thanksgiving be an occasion on which you begin the daily practice of giving thanks to the Father for his blessings. Only with grateful hearts can we love as God loves and grow in holiness to enter eternal life with him.
Featured image by Andrew Wright