Bishop's Interview: Thanksgiving is a way of life, not just a holiday
Editor: Bishop, we celebrate Thanksgiving in a few weeks. How can we make it more of a holy day rather than just a holiday?
Bishop Vásquez: Thanksgiving is a wonderful national holiday. And of course, on this day, we remember that first Thanksgiving of the pilgrims who came to this country seeking a new beginning and a new life because they wanted freedom to worship God their way. That first Thanksgiving was an expression of gratitude to God for the blessings of the fruits of the land, which the pilgrims harvested with the help of the Native Americans. Families traditionally come together, and, as the old saying goes, many travel back to grandma’s house. We see family and relatives that we haven’t seen in a while.
On Thanksgiving we come together to remember our history and our roots and we give thanks to God. Gathering as families and friends is a good thing for us to do! These gatherings also become sacred moments when we include God, prayer and worship. I hope that many people will take the opportunity to give thanks to God for their blessings. We can make this holiday more of a holy day by realizing that we are blessed and responding with gratefulness.
Editor: We are called to pray in thanksgiving, but many times life gets in the way. Jobs get cut, cars break down, children get sick. How do we give thanks even when life is difficult?
Bishop Vásquez: We must first realize that life itself is a gift. We did not create ourselves, rather God created us through the love of our parents. We are created in the image and likeness of God, but we are created so that we might continue to obtain perfection through the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we realize in life there is good and bad and that all of us sometimes struggle.
As St. Paul says in his letters to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
St. Paul reminds us that the Christian’s attitude should be one of thanksgiving throughout our entire life –– not just in the good times but in all circumstances. The Christian is one who is able to be grateful in all moments of life. The pain and the suffering, the joys and happiness that we experience can all be brought to God. We offer our lives to God so he can transform them. This is what we call “grace.” Grace is the ability to let God touch our lives and transform them far more than we ever anticipated or expected.
We all know people who have struggled with painful situations, such as illness or the loss of a loved one, and yet they are able to continue to see the hand of God in their lives. We are called to allow the hand of God to touch all of the areas of our lives, the good and the bad, so that his grace can transform us and make us more like his son, Jesus Christ.
Editor: Tell us how you personally pray in thanksgiving.
Bishop Vásquez: For me, the Eucharist is the primary way I give thanks. For the last several years, I have traveled home to be with my family –– my father brothers and sisters. We all get together and share a meal. We, of course, eat a lot and we laugh, talk, and sit around watching football games and enjoying the leftovers. But the first thing I do before I get on the road to go see my family is celebrate the Eucharist in my chapel and take the opportunity to pray so that the day begins with thanksgiving to God. I thank God for the day, especially for the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ.
By the time I travel to be with my family, they have already gone to Mass and they are busy preparing the meal. In my family, we pray together for the blessing of the food. My father offers the prayer because he is the one who has been there to guide us in life and to teach us right from wrong. Therefore, he is the one who lifts all of our prayers to God as one. This is a wonderful moment to see my father praying with all of us around him –– brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and friends, and to know that we are all part of this one family and that we have this tradition of our faith, which is so central and essential to us.
Editor: Explain how the Eucharist is thanksgiving at its best.
Bishop Vásquez: The word “thanksgiving” comes from this word “eucharistia,” which is a Greek word for giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a way of life not just one day in the year or a certain event, but rather a continuous act of giving thanks. If there is any group of people who understand what it is to give thanks, it is Catholics. The very center of who we are as Catholics is the celebration of the Eucharist. Blessed John Paul II said very clearly the church draws her life from the Eucharist and the Eucharist gives life to the church.
In his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Blessed John Paul II wrote, “The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its “commemorative representation,” which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time.”
In the celebration of the Eucharist, we give thanks for the great salvific act of Jesus Christ. Before his own death, Christ took bread, blessed it and broke it and said, “This is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood.” Jesus poured himself out for all of humanity to save us from our sins. Mass is the celebration of the perpetual love of God in the gift of his son to us.
Editor: Also, at the end of November we will wrap up the Year of Faith. How has this year been for us as Catholics?
Bishop Vásquez: The Year of Faith has been a blessing to the whole church. Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI began the Year of Faith by asking us to reinvigorate our Catholic faith. He invited us to immerse ourselves in the faith and to come to a greater appreciation of who we are as Catholics and of our love for Christ and for his church. This revitalization helps us become faithful witnesses and helps us speak of Christ to others and share the acts of love and mercy that we have received from our Savior. This deeper appreciation of our faith reflects itself in how we live, how we treat our family and our coworkers, how we treat the poor and how we love one another. We can’t keep our faith contained or locked up or separated from the other parts of our lives.
Throughout the diocese, I have seen people living out their faith in vibrant ways. I have been impressed, especially with our young people where there is a hunger for the faith and a desire to make a difference. Pope Francis has also enlivened people to start examining their faith. He has called us back to the basics of Christianity. He is calling us to live a simpler life, to be aware of the poor and to see Christ in them.
As the Year of Faith draws to a close on the feast of Christ the King, I believe the fruits of this year will continue to be experienced.
Editor: What is your prayer of thanksgiving for this month and the rest of the year?
Bishop Vásquez: I pray we may see ourselves as truly blessed by God. May we express with grateful hearts the blessings that God has given us. Mindful of all of our many blessings, may we share with those around us our food, clothing, time, treasure, presence and love.