Thanksgiving has arrived once again, and our families gather from near and far to celebrate this annual feast. The important word there is “families.” This past year, as Catholics, our attention has been focused on family life.
Both the World Meeting of Families in neighboring Philadelphia during September, and the Synod of Bishops that followed in Rome, underscored the family as the center of human society.
“All the love that God has in himself, all of the beauty that God has in himself, all of the truth that God has in himself, God gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love,” Pope Francis said during his visit to the United States.
Recognizing the struggles that every family encounters, he continued, “Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is forged by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid the light and shadows.”
The Thanksgiving table becomes a symbol of family life and an icon of that love. Sharing that holiday meal, provided, prepared and shared in love, calls to mind the Table of the Lord, and the family of faith the Lord Jesus gathers around it every time we celebrate the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”).
Gathered by and in the love of Christ, this family of faith is also not “perfect” and also develops “amid light and shadows,” bringing joys as well as hardships to the banquet. Both are on the menu.
Family life can multiply our joys and divide our sorrows, when lived and shared in a love that opens our hearts to let others in. When that happens, gratitude - thanksgiving - becomes easier and spreads to others at the table and beyond.
This year, when the Church has lifted up family life for our prayer and reflection, Thanksgiving can become a family celebration of faith that it was originally intended to be. Whether at the table alone or surrounded by loved ones, we owe thanks to God our Father for the life and bounty He has given us.
We are members of God’s family. We are sisters and brothers of the Lord Jesus, his Son. We are members of his family, the Church. We give thanks. We are filled with the life of the Holy Spirit who guides our path as a family of faith. We give thanks.
And, finally, for all those we call family in this world, whether here with us or at the heavenly table, we offer our love and a prayer of thanks for all we have received each and every day of our lives.