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Thanksgiving Day
November 23, 2017

     Nearly 400 years ago, in the year 1623, the Governor of Plymouth Colony launched a day of Thanksgiving with this proclamation:  “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest…has made the forests abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience, I, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, do proclaim that all pilgrims gather at the meeting house on Thursday, there to listen to your pastor and render thanksgiving to almighty God for all his blessings.”

     I would never want to downplay Gov. Bradford’s words about listening to the pastor, but his words about giving thanks to God for countless blessings are more important. It’s why we’re here this morning, of course, celebrating the Eucharist, our great prayer of thanksgiving. And it’s what will bring us together later today around festive tables heavy with food and drink. Aren’t we blessed to have a whole day for giving thanks!

     I love the little saying of Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey: “Thank God ahead of time,” he would say.  It takes faith to do that because we never know what’s going to be around the corner, do we? To give thanks for what will be is quite a leap of faith. But it also takes faith to look back and thank God for all that has been, and that’s more likely what we’re doing today and there are endless possibilities, aren’t there!  I wish I could invite each of you to stand and share something you’re grateful to God for, but that’s not too practical. So allow me to share with you a few of the things for which I’m giving thanks this day. Maybe my little litany will trigger one of your own.

     I give thanks today for the gift of life which I take far too much for granted – the awesome gift of life.  With the Psalmist, I give thanks to God for the “wonder of my being,” for the life God is breathing into me this very moment and for the hope of eternal life which is present in every breath I take.

     I give thanks to God for my family – especially my wonderful Mom and Dad who shared their life with me without ever counting the cost. They gave me a past: roots planted deep in the rich and sometimes messy soil of a very human family that came from the old world (mostly Ireland), and happily found its way to this new world. They also gave me a present filled with love, acceptance, and just enough failings and foibles to make our family as real as any other. And they gave me a future: believing in me and encouraging me to use whatever gifts God had given me to make a tiny difference in a great big world.

     I give also thanks to God today for my faith: that seed planted in me on the day of my baptism that gave me a second family: this great family of faith that we call the Church – this imperfectly perfect family of believers with its powerful sacramental life that touches and anoints my soul and my life in so many ways – nourishing me, strengthening me, healing me, forgiving me – putting me in touch with the God who is so far beyond me yet so close to me in Jesus, so close to me in you, my brothers and sisters who are his Body.

     And I give thanks to God today for this world we live in, overflowing with beauty beyond belief, but also weighed down with misery beyond measure. This world, charged with God’s grandeur in earth, sea, and sky, yet scarred by human flaws both great and small.  This world where the ever-widening gulf between those who have and those who have not is a scandal that should keep us from ever being complacent.

     And I give thanks, too, for this beloved nation of ours: America, the land of the free that makes it possible for us to gather as we have today and blesses us with a prosperity unparalleled in human history. This great country founded on freedom and equality has been a shining beacon in our world, but we lose our soul if we forget that democracy is rooted in the God-given dignity and rights of each and every human person without exception; and that justice for some is not the same as justice for all, and that our national interests alone are not sufficient grounds for any kind of policy, domestic or foreign. America is great but not when we turn in on ourselves; not when we put partisan politics ahead of the most basic morality; not when we close our doors and our borders to “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; not when, instead of summoning our better angels, we fan the flames of hatred and division. So, by all means, give thanks for our great country today, but add a prayer that we never forget where our true greatness lies.

     And then, in a most special way today, I give thanks to God for you, the people of St. James Cathedral parish.  For me, you are as close as it gets to an unmixed blessing.  Your faith strengthens my faith in ways you will never know; your love and your advocacy, especially for the poor and the marginalized, is a living sacrament of God’s love; and your selfless, generous-hearted service is a beacon in this city, every bit as prominent as the two towers that grace our beautiful cathedral.  You yourselves are a beautiful building – God’s handiwork, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”  In the day-to-day living out of your faith: in your struggles to believe and even in your stumblings along the way, you are proclaiming “the mighty works of God who has called us out of darkness into marvelous light.”

     My friends in Christ, these are a few of the things for which I give thanks today.  But my words are so inadequate and my gratitude so incomplete.  Happily, it doesn’t depend on me or on you, for our desire to thank God is itself God’s gift.  How fitting, then, that we go now to the altar where our poor words of thanks, our expressions of gratitude will be transformed into divine words of thanks, words that will make present in our midst the Word made flesh who dwells among us. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just!”


Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303