I suspect most people engaged in a word association game would respond to hearing the word November with "Thanksgiving." As soon as Halloween passes, the pilgrims, Indians, turkeys, and cornucopias take center stage reminding us of the coming national holiday for giving thanks. In today's post-Christian culture the reason for the holiday has been muddled. Children in politically correct government schools learn that the pilgrims had a feast "to thank the Indians" for their help. Their gratitude to the Christian God is hidden under a baleful of nonsense. The relity of course is that after a cruel winter in a hard land the pilgrims gave thanks to God for their survival, a bountiful harvest, and the hope for the future. They owed thanks to the Indians as well, of course, for teaching them good farming methods and assisting them to survive the first bitter winter, but they knew to whom they owed thanks first.
Those who love the truth and study history know that the pilgrims fled religious persecution so they could worship as they desired. The Mayflower compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony is filled with religious allusions. The men who signed the document stated that their first purpose in doing so was to establish a colony "for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith." They were people of faith and courage and gratitude.
In fact, the early explorers explicitly testified to their faith. Christopher Columbus, on his first journey, sailed under the sign of the cross and his lead ship, the Santa Maria, glorified the Mother of God. His log testifies to his faith. The first thing he did when he landed in the new world was to plant the cross on the island he called San Salvador, Holy Savior. Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in a talk he gave on Columbus the Catholic in the millenial year of the admiral's great voyage, described him as an extraordinary man with an extraordinary vocation. He "opened the door to the most phenomenal spread of Christianity since the time of St. Paul....He was the destined herald of the true faith to half of the human race." Was he perfect? No. Were all his motives pure? Probably not. But, like all imperfect Christians struggling in this vale of tears, he tried.
And this reflection brings me face to face with those blessings for which I am most grateful. Life has to be first because without it no other blessings are possible. My mother was adopted. I know very little about her family of origin. Was she an orphan of parents killed in an accident? Or was she placed for adoption by a single mom? Whatever the circumstances, I can empathize with today's survivor generation who escaped abortion. I am alive today because my mom was allowed to be born and adopted into a wonderful Catholic home.
The second great blessing is faith, the greatest gift Mom and Dad gave us. Both my parents were cradle Catholics committed to the faith. Daddy was the son of a church organist and a teacher. He gave mother a copy of Casti Connubii, Pope Pius XI's encyclical on marriage and told her he could only marry her if she agreed with it which she did. After all, she was the daughter of an Irish Catholic lawyer, a founding member of his Knights of Columbus council in Cleveland. Mom and Dad's courtship during the late 30s was taking place as Margaret Sanger's birth control revolution was in full swing. Their fidelity to authentic and life-giving marriage held the Catholic ground. They went on to raise ten children to adulthood.
Which brings me to the third blessing - family. The domestic church of the family truly is the first school of the faith where much is "caught not taught." Conversations around the dinner table, daily prayers, Sunday Mass, celebrating traditions throughout the year -- all these things nurture faith. I particularly remember a Holy Thursday tradition when Mom took us took us to three churches to pray and the midnight Masses on Christmas and Easter. There is something almost magical about gathering to worship our God with the stars shining in that "midnight clear."
And how can we not thank God for our neighbors. I am especially grateful for author "neighbors" who touch my heart, even across the centuries, with their wit and wisdom. The saints, like Teresa of Avila and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, have accompanied me to Mass with their meditations on the Eucharist or the various events in the life of Christ. Thomas a Kempis' little book, The Imitation of Christ, has been a constant companion on the journey, so much so that I memorized a small bit for my thanksgiving after Communion. And the secular writers have challenged me as well, especially those writing out of their Christian faith. G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, William Shakespeare, Louis de Wohl, Thomas Costain, Malcolm Muggeridge, Myles Connolly, and too many others to mention.
But I'm also grateful and thank God for those difficult neighbors, some very close to home, who act like sandpaper rubbing at the rough edges of my characters, inviting me to practice the virtues of patience and humility. Fr. John Hardon, a holy Jesuit who died in 2000, often spoke of the value these individuals are in making us humble. "Only humble people get into heaven," he often said, and we can only become humble through suffering humiliation. So those who injure me, insult my pride, make me feel little and insignificant serve an important purpose in my life. How can I not thank God for them?
So I come to the end of November filled with gratitude for all the blessings in my life. "God has done great things for me and holy is His name." What an ungrateful daughter I would be not to thank Him every day of my life.