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Thanksgiving Day – November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving

What do we want to thank God for this Thanksgiving? We might start by using the familiar “Three F’s” — Faith, Family and Friends.

As Christians and as Catholics, we are especially grateful that we have been given the gift of Faith, as we show our gratitude for that great gift by practicing our faith and by doing our best to share our faith with others. We are also very grateful for the opportunity to share Thanksgiving Dinner with our Family and Friends.

To the “Three F’s” that we are grateful for as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I suggest that we might add three more F’s to our list of things that we are grateful for: Food, Freedom, and Foreigners.

1) Food. Of all of our national holidays, Thanksgiving is the one that most clearly focuses our attention on Food. If you ask people what they are going to have for Thanksgiving Dinner, my guess is that almost everyone will tell you, “Turkey, of course… with dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and all of the trimmings, and pumpkin pie for dessert!” Let’s ask God to help us to appreciate the fact that as Americans we eat very well, perhaps better than any other nation in the world.

2) Freedom. Thanksgiving is also a time for us as Americans to be grateful for our Freedom, especially for our freedom to live and practice our Catholic faith. The Pilgrims came from England to the New World to find religious freedom. This new spirit of religious freedom provides the basis for the First Amendment of the Constitution that assures that the United States Government cannot make any laws regarding the establishment of one official state religion. In recent history this has been called “separation of Church and State,” but more importantly the First Amendment assures our right to the “free exercise” of our religion

This religious freedom is something that I have always taken for granted – that is, until I met a young seminarian named Michael Tran who was applying for admission to St. Francis Seminary at the University of San Diego while I was on the faculty there. Because when he was in Vietnam, because he was a catechist and because he wanted to become a priest, Michael Tran was held in solitary confinement in a North Vietnamese prison for ten months. When Michael finally escaped from that prison cell, he decided to leave Vietnam so that he could pursue his vocation to the priesthood. Michael nearly drowned during his dangerous boat ride out of Vietnam, but he did escape successfully; he became a refugee here in the United States, where he was free to enter the seminary. Fr. Michael was ordained a priest, and he served as my Associate Pastor at St. Rose of Lima Parish for nine years. Knowing and working with Father Michael Tran has certainly given me a much deeper appreciation of the religious freedom that so many of us take for granted here in the United States.

3) Foreigners. The United States is largely a nation of immigrants, or foreigners. Very few of us can claim to be descendants of the original indigenous people in this part of the New World. The United States is the great nation that it is because we have always welcomed newcomers. Like the inscription at the base of the State of Liberty puts it so poetically: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Unfortunately, not all Americans are as welcoming to new immigrants as Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” would want us to be.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we remember the assistance that the Wampanoag Indians gave the Pilgrims when they first arrived at Plymouth Rock. From those Native Americans, the Pilgrims learned how to plant and harvest new crops ù and how to hunt and fish ù so that they could survive in the New World. Let us thank God now for the new immigrants who come to the United States looking for freedom and a better life here, and let us be grateful for all of the things that we can learn from one another as we all become no longer foreigners and strangers, but friends and family!