byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
At the conclusion of last year, Pope Francis addressed his final Wednesday Audience at the Vatican on the topic of thanksgiving. He referred to the account in the Gospel of Saint Luke of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, with only one coming back to thank Him. He emphasized that our gratitude, as Christians, always stems “from the recognition that grace precedes us. We were thought of before we learned how to think; we were loved before we learned how to love; we were desired before our hearts conceived a desire. If we view life like this, then ‘thank you’ becomes the driving force of our day.” It is Christ who became one of us and gave His life on the Cross, who reminds us of how we are loved and that He is the center of our lives. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and our great national holiday of Thanksgiving, it is so fitting for us to reflect upon Pope Francis’ message.
The Feast of Christ the King came into existence by the proclamation of Pope Pius XI in 1925, in response to a growing nationalism and secularism, which was present within the world. Wishing to draw attention away from worldly power to that of Christ Himself, the Pope established the Feast of Christ the King as the last Sunday of October, before the celebration of All Saints Day. In 1969, Pope Paul VI raised the celebration to that of a Solemnity and established its date as the final Sunday of the year, before the beginning of the Season of Advent. His intention was to draw attention to Christ, who is the fulfillment of the entire liturgical season, as well as the focal point of our lives.
It is quite interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln‘s proclamation of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863, establishing a National Day of Thanksgiving, invoked both the providence of God for which we are grateful, as well as His mercy, for which we give thanks. Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, during a time of tremendous strife for a nation which was in the midst of the Civil War. Giving deference to God’s almighty providence and the abundance of goodness that God bestowed upon this nation, Lincoln also invoked God‘s mercy upon the nation for its sins, including involvement in a Civil War.
On Thanksgiving, we indeed express our gratitude to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us. Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings despite the many difficulties and challenges we may face in life. Thanksgiving is a time that reminds us that “grace precedes us.” It offers us the opportunity to gather with our families and to express our gratitude for the gift of life, our family, and friends, and especially for our faith. We give thanks to God for this nation in which we live and for all the bounty it provides for us. We give thanks to God for our freedom and for the freedom of the practice of our faith in this nation and pray that this freedom of religion will always be a hallmark of our nation.
Celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King and Thanksgiving this week brings together the reality that we are grateful to God for His mercy. We are grateful that “grace precedes us.” As Abraham Lincoln invoked God’s providence and mercy, we realize Christ is our King precisely because He is our Redeemer. God created us out of love, but He redeemed us out of His mercy. It is His mercy which shows us the abundance of His love and how much He wants us to enter into a real relationship with Him. Despite our sin and rejection of God, God does not reject us. He sent His Son into the world, who gave His life upon a cross, in order that we might have life.
Faith looks upon the Cross of Jesus Christ and sees the King. We see not a king of worldly authority, but a king whose authority is love. The Gospel of Saint John especially portrays Jesus as King, as he reigns upon the Cross. It is from the Cross that He extends His arms over the world in an embrace of love. It is from the Cross that blood and water from His wounded heart flow out upon the world, that we might be redeemed. As we look around the world and find so much strife and discord, even within our own nation, it is only God’s mercy extended to all which gives meaning and purpose. This is what we celebrate on the Solemnity of Christ the King, and it is for this that we are most grateful as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
Soon we will be beginning the Season of Advent. During the season, we will prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Birth of Christ. However, this season is also an extremely active one filled with sometimes frantic preparations for Christmas, during which we lose the focus of what Christmas is all about. Indeed, the setting of the date of Thanksgiving, since Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation, has fluctuated in the face of the secular Christmas season. Lincoln fixed the date as the last Thursday of November, but President Roosevelt changed the date to accommodate the commercial aspect of Christmas, when the last Thursday of November fell so late that it shortened the Christmas shopping season. With much controversy over this decision, it was ultimately Congress who fixed the date on the fourth Thursday of November. This history is a reminder of how we can lose focus on what Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about.
Our focus is on Christ. It is His grace which always precedes us. We look to Him as our King and our Redeemer. We realize that it is the economy of salvation and not the economy of anything else that makes a difference in our lives. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and Thanksgiving and as we look forward to the beginning of Advent, may we know fully the depth of God‘s love and the mercy of Christ the King.
In a particular way, I give thanks for all the faithful of our Diocese, whose faith and support make the Church alive here in Southern Florida. Your faith and devotion have certainly been a blessing during the time of the pandemic. To all of you, I say thank you!
May Thanksgiving be filled with all of the Lord’s blessings for you and your families!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 19, 2021