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Bishop Caggiano op-ed: Thanksgiving in difficult times

November 24, 2016

Our secular and religious values converge this time of year when in word and prayer we give thanks for the blessings we have received as a nation and as believers in Christ through the celebration of Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent.

Each observance says something about our national character, the quality of our community and the values we hold sacred as Americans and people of faith. And I believe they have much to do with listening and discovering a profound reality that unites us all.

On a recent trip on the subway when I was back in New York City, I noticed that every sign in the subway card had the same saying: “If you see something, say something.”

Of course, the intent is an obvious one. In these perilous times, those entrusted to keep our nation safe are asking us to become more aware of our surroundings. If we see anything suspicious, we should alert authorities about what we have noticed. In short, we are being asked to attune our “sight” and to learn to see what previously may have gone unnoticed or “unseen” by you and me.

Likewise, the Church asks us to adjust how we see life around us and to begin to notice the many subtle and beautiful ways God is already present in your life and mine. Often, we do not see His presence in the people, events and even challenges of our lives. As a result, we need to adjust our “seeing” and see our life and world around us with the eyes of God, so we can respond to His love.

Retooling our spiritual sight can be quite challenging. For example, when you stumble upon a homeless person, what do you really see? The world often sees a “problem” that needs to be fixed. Seeing with the eyes of God, what you and I are challenged to see is a brother and sister who has equal dignity with us and who needs our help to enjoy what you and I take for granted.

On Thanksgiving Day, we join our neighbors and friends of every faith to pause and give thanks for the blessings we share and perhaps also take for granted as Americans.

In this time of growing challenges and fear, this exercise is more important than ever because some of our greatest blessings, including our freedom and the American spirit of tolerance and welcome are being tried by the vicious actions of those who wish to harm us.

We are reminded not to take our blessings for granted but to cherish them, share them and be ready to defend them for the sake of those who will come after us.

Whether we gather around the table or gather around the altar, we are called to practice the art of listening, even when we find ourselves, angry, disappointed or dismissed by other opinions or viewpoints.

Yet, authentic, respectful listening to those around us, including those with whom we disagree, is essential for the good of society and for believers to live authentic discipleship. Such listening is needed now more than ever in our country.

The hallmark of any true democracy is the ability of its people to passionately embrace their convictions while at the same time live an attitude of respectful listening with those with whom we may disagree. Such listening does not erase our differences but creates a space in which we can discuss those differences peacefully, with the goal to bring greater harmony and unity to our society.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and begin Advent, all of us must redouble our efforts to create such a “space for listening” if we are to work together as a society to face the problems before us and identify solutions for the good of all. We can seek wisdom from Pope Francis, who recently cautioned against “the virus of polarization” or the need to demonize our opponents “so as to have a sacred justification for dismissing them.”

“Our pitiful hearts tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn,” he said, while cautioning against building walls between one another, even if they come out of a sense of righteousness.

So as we enter this time of Thanksgiving and Advent, let us ask ourselves: What is it that I am thankful for? More importantly, for whom am I thankful?

The Most Rev. Frank J. Caggiano is the spiritual leader of 400,000 Catholics throughout Fairfield County. Follow “Bishop Caggiano” on Facebook and on twitter: @bishopcaggiano.