When President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863, the United States was…
A sacrifice of praise is due this Thanksgiving
This is a difficult column for me to write. It’s almost Thanksgiving, so I wanted to write something about gratitude. In truth, I have a lot to be grateful for — an amazing wife, my family, my work.
And yet, I am struggling to write about thanks. Why? Because as much as I love my Church, every day there are new reasons I want to beat my head into a wall over the newest revelations of clerical abuse, clerical infidelity or the seemingly terminal inability of many members of the hierarchy to even pretend to want to support a consistent Catholic moral vision.
If you’ve ever wondered why the Church has struggled to institute the teachings of Humanae Vitae for the last 50 years, look no further than the fact that, according to the Boston Globe, 130 U.S. bishops (one-third of all living bishops in the U.S.) have been accused of covering up for abusive priests. Fifteen of those have been accused of sexual improprieties of their own.
This scandal is a gift that keeps giving. I recently received an email from a listener of my radio program. She asked me how she can save her marriage, which is being destroyed by the crisis. Her husband, who experienced abuse as a child, is growing angrier at his wife by the day for holding onto her faith. In his mind, by continuing to go to church, she is providing cover for hypocrites and potentially putting their children in danger. Is his response fair or justified? Of course not. But it’s understandable.
I deal with situations like this all day long in my pastoral counseling practice. Hurting people, who would usually turn to their faith for strength and comfort, are consistently met by a Church’s leadership that seems literally hell-bent on finding new ways to undermine their spiritual wellbeing.
So, yes. I’m furious. No, I’m not losing my faith. I draw profound meaning from my relationship with Jesus Christ. I am deeply grateful for the Eucharist. The sacraments are my lifeline. My prayer life is solid. I am more dedicated to the mission God has given me than ever.
But I am angry that the generals, who foot soldiers like me are supposed to be counting on for support, can’t seem to stop themselves from engaging in an unceasing campaign of “friendly fire,” characterized by tone-deaf policies, obtuse public statements and initiatives that appear to be designed to undermine the Church’s ability to present a positive alternative to the secular culture’s sexual agenda. It isn’t just that the spiritual sand is shifting. It’s that, with a few notable exceptions, our leaders seem to be reveling in digging the sand out from underneath us.Which, ironically, brings me to gratitude.
In Hebrews 13:15, St. Paul urges us to continually “make a sacrifice of praise.” It’s an odd phrase, but a powerful one. It means that although there are many times we don’t feel like giving thanks, that it is exactly when we must ask for the grace to sacrifice our anger, our frustration, our despair, our exhaustion and all the rest at the altar of hope. That is exactly the time when we must remind ourselves to praise God for his mighty works in the past and his mighty works yet to come.
And so, despite any anger toward the Church’s leadership that you may feel, this Thanksgiving I hope you will join me in making a sacrifice of praise to God for our baptism that makes us one family in Christ. For the Eucharist that gives us Jesus’ flesh and blood. For confirmation that provides the grace we need to use our gifts and talents to serve a hurting world. For the Word that leads us to everlasting life. For the good, faithful bishops, priests and religious who continue to courageously bear witness to the truth of the Gospel and the moral vision of the Church despite the betrayal and scorn they experience from their brothers. For the laypeople who are finally waking from their passive slumber and demanding a holier Church. And, perhaps most importantly in our present circumstances, for the broken body of Christ, that reminds us that there is meaning in suffering and a resurrection after the cross.