Thanksgiving Day 2020
Isaiah 63: 7-9, Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 17:11-19
“I thank God for you every time I think of you. Whenever I pray for you, I always pray with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4). I have been distracted by the recent deaths in my family, two deaths in one month. Shakespeare stated it well: “I have lost a brace of kinsmen.” In addition to the loss my family has experienced, there is the strain of isolation imposed by the COVID-19 restrictions. We are not able to share all our reminiscences. Or experience brought to mind a comment made by Pope Francis: “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, which stops everything as it passes by.” As I walk through the valley of darkness, I am filled with tear-stained memories that cause me to pray with joy.
“We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot). As I pondered my separation from my family, was reminded of the day I became a member of this community. “We confirm that you are now one with us as members of this Cistercian community of Our Lady of the Genesee, sharing all things in common with us now and for the future.” Recalling a line in the Book of Revelations, as I look around at the community, I asked: “who are these men dressed in white?” (Rev. 7:13) The answer is simple and straight forward. They are the successors to the founders of Citeaux, who cleared the area of shrubs and thornbushes to build a monastery where they could be lovers of the Rule and the brethren. My brothers, “I thank God for you, every time I think of you. Whenever I pray for you, I always pray with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4).
“We’ve become aware that we’re all in the same boat, all fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and necessary, all called to remain together, all needing to comfort each other in turn” (Pope Francis). God, in His infinite mercy, has given us to each other “to bear each other’s infirmities, whether of body or mind, with the utmost patience” (RB. 72). In this community, the Lord manifests his loving-kindness for us and guides us along the way of peace. Each time we put on the cowl, we are clothing ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (CF. Col. 3:12). By God’s grace, we have been called by name and made heirs of the kingdom. As members of the household of God, we have to forgive one another, as we have been forgiven. Then, when charity and love prevail among us, the peace of God will rule in our hearts. “[Let us] thank God for [one another] every time [we] think of [each other]. Whenever [we] pray for [each other], [let us] always pray with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4).
The Psalmist encourages us. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony” (Ps. 133:1). In our own way, each of us has responded to God’s call. By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we have been clothed in love and made members of Christ’s Body. There is only one Spirit and he intimately unites us to one another. The unity of the Spirit produces and stimulates charity among the members of the community. Whenever we gather for the Work of God, we should sing the psalms and hymns with thankful hearts. We have been taken up into the mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection so that he might bring us all together into everlasting life. Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become members of the Body of Christ and share a communion of faith and love with one another.
I am reminded of St. Benedict’s exhortation. “Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices” (RB. 19.7). We have so much to be thankful for. I am blessed by your faithfulness to your vocation. As you continue to respond to the working of grace within you, I find myself wanting to conform to Christ, more and more. We need to be grateful for all the unasked-for gifts we receive from our brothers because they give us purpose and fill our hearts with joy. Today, we thank God for the graces and comforts, gifts, and talents of each of our brothers. Because we are so blessed, we offer God the glory. How blessed we are to see the beauty and vastness of our life. God gives us a purpose in living. He gives us meaning. He surrounds us with a community of like-minded, single-hearted brothers. Let us never cease to praise God with all that is within us because he is the source of every good gift. As I come to the end of this reflection, I find myself wrestling with the question David posed in Psalm 116: “What return can I make to the Lord for all he has done for me?” (Ps. 116:12). All I can say is, “I thank God for you every time I think of you. Whenever I pray for you, I always pray with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4).