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Thanksgiving Message from Father Ryan
November 28, 2019

Dear Friends,

The Thanksgiving holiday prompts me to write a word of thanks to you for all you do to make our parish the wonderful community of prayer and service it is. I thank God for you every day in my prayer, but it probably doesn’t hurt for me to tell you that once in a while. And what better time than our national day of Thanksgiving!

Mention of our nation should make us grateful. We are blessed beyond measure in this land we call home. Every year at our annual Thanksgiving Day Mass I get to remind you of this and it’s something I always look forward to doing. This year, however, because I am going to join my nephews and nieces and their families for Thanksgiving, I can’t be here for the Thanksgiving Day Mass. My family has decided this year that Nashville is a good gathering place for our family, now scattered across the country from west to east, so Nashville is where I’ll be. Country music has never quite been my thing but, who knows, maybe I’m not too old to learn a new trick or two…!

If I were here for the Thanksgiving Day Mass, I would say something to you about the state of our nation, but I’ll have to settle for doing it this way. We are all aware of what a difficult and even dark time this is in our nation’s history. It seems that so many of the things we hold dear—our sense of being one nation under God, our seeking of the Common Good together, our sense of common purpose, our commitment to common decency, the value we put on truth over falsehood, love over hatred, service over selfishness, tolerance over bigotry, patriotism over nationalism—these and so many things that have always been at the heart of what makes America truly great, seem at this time to be gravely compromised. So much so, that I find myself asking the question, can we no longer put aside our differences in order to pursue the great vision of our Founders and build a society with freedom and justice for all? I wish I didn’t need to ask that question but I think I do.

We have much to pray for, don’t we? And much to overcome! In the cacophony of partisan political name-calling, in the unfolding of a national drama over the possible impeachment of a President, in the too-often rancorous and acrimonious debate over who we want to be as a people and a nation—who we want to invite to the table, and what we want our place in the world to be—we who call ourselves Catholic need to return to some basics that Catholic Social Teaching sets forth for us with crystal clarity. Prominent among these are the following, which, according to the teaching of Pope Francis, are not a menu from which to pick and choose, but “are equally sacred and urgent.” They are: respect for the dignity of every human person without exception beginning with life in the womb and continuing throughout the lifespan; a preferential option for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, including migrants and refugees, and victims of human trafficking; care and respect for God’s creation, our common home; and a commitment to building a just and peaceful world without war or violence. The word “respect” features prominently among those principles, and yet, sad to say, we have become a nation that seems to have forgotten the very meaning of respect. Regrettably, we find this at every level—from those who govern us, to those who are governed.

And where are the role models to show us the way? Who can we look to as a nation? Who can inspire us? Who can capture our best instincts, appeal to “the better angels of our nature”? Sadly, strong role models with moral standing and moral credibility are hard to find these days. But we who are Christian believers don’t have to look very far for our role model, do we? Jesus Christ—who came to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, who devoted his entire ministry to reaching out to those on the margins and welcoming those on the fringes of society—Jesus Christ is our role model.

I sometimes find myself wondering what Jesus would say to us if he were to take the pulpit some Sunday, but it’s actually a question I’m able to answer rather easily. He would speak the same words to us that he spoke to his contemporaries. That’s because societies change and so do political challenges and situations, but the message of Jesus doesn’t change. Jesus would challenge us today in the same way he did the people he preached to in the synagogue of Nazareth and along the shores of the Lake of Galilee. And what is his challenge? It’s to put the little ones first—and the least, and the last. It’s to let the poor lead us out of ourselves and lead us to God, as Pope Francis recently reminded us. That’s the challenge of Jesus, the upside-down logic of the gospel, and we believers ignore it at our peril.

So, my friends, if we want to know how to begin to heal our nation, how to treat one another, how to reset our priorities—how even to vote—we need to go no further than the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its rich and challenging complexity. And I know, the separation of Church and State is written into the fabric of our Constitution and we must never blur that line. But Christian believers don’t need to blur the line between Church and State in order to bring about societal change. All that needs to happen is for us to change: for us to let the gospel of Jesus Christ—rather than the wearying, divisive rhetoric of some of our elected leaders who serve themselves and not the people—wake us up to the world around us, recharge our moral batteries, and inform our way of thinking. Christians formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ have an unbeatable recipe for the healing of our nation and for the re-discovery of our true national greatness. And we don’t even need to quote the gospel; we only need to live it!

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and I pray for you and your families even as I pray for our beloved country!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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