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November 21, 2012
Thanksgiving and the feast of Christ the King
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

Some years ago, a professor of Philosophy 101 asked his students to evaluate the course at the end of the final exam. “Philosophy taught me absolutely nothing,” wrote a student, “except how to think.”

Beauty of the Mind


It’s easy to take the mind for granted. At an early age, children express themselves with subtle curiosity and with a keen sense of wonder. The word ‘why’ becomes fixed in their vocabulary. Animals are incapable of asking ‘why.’ A parrot can repeat words but can’t appreciate beauty. As children mature into young adulthood, these spiritual faculties are essential to their future wellbeing as individuals and as citizens.

“The mind governs everything,” writes A.D. Sertillanges, O.P. “It begins, accomplishes, perseveres, finally achieves. When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fancy.” The thinking person values silence in order to listen to oneself and  to God. “Reason ambitions only a world; faith gives it infinity.” (“The Intellectual Life,” 1)

The intellect seeks truth. “I think, therefore I am.” This brainy phrase can be used to impress. Popularized by René Descartes, this dictum is more precisely rendered in two ways: (1) “I am, therefore I think.” One must exist before one thinks; (2) “I am thought of, therefore I am.” This version claims more depth than the previous two. It contains wisdom and truth. From eternity, every man and woman has first existed in God’s thought. Therefore, we come into existence with purpose. A high civilization depends on a nation committed to truth, the result of right thinking.

These brain teasers may be summed up in Robert Bolt's play, “A Man for All Seasons.” In it, Thomas More urges his daughter Meg to think things through, clearly and carefully, thereby avoiding the mandatory Oath of Supremacy issued by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.

“God made the angels to show him splendor
As he made animals for innocence
And plants for their simplicity.
But to man, he gave an intellect
to serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.”

For the beauty of the mind, we give thanks to God.

For Fruits of the Earth, We Give Thanks

In 1789, George Washington called for a national day of thanks on Thursday, November 26th.  The feast as we know it today is due to the efforts of Sarah Joseph Hale of Boston and other women who saw themselves as the protectors of men and the promoters of social stability. From 1827 onward, as the editor of the “Godey's Ladies Book,” Hale's editorial page urged her readers to set aside a day each year to thank God for their blessings. In 1941, Congress officially declared Thanksgiving Day a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. (Burt Wolf, “Taste of Freedom: Thanksgiving”)

And so, the day gives us pause to count our blessings as did the Pilgrims at their first harvest in the New World. Our blessings are countless. In addition to the beauty of nature and the marvel of the intellect, our God-given rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are blessings guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence.

The link between dining, the fruits of the earth, and gratitude is plainly and visibly seen when men and women have a meal together. A prayer of thanks is closely linked to a meal because it implies dependence on creation. On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge that, in this harvest feast, the earth does the giving, and we, the receiving.

Catholics are double receivers because of the Eucharistic meal, a gift beyond measure. Therefore, thanksgiving is the very basis of conduct, and for Catholics, an essential part of our lives.

Feast of Christ the King

On this Thanksgiving weekend, the Church celebrates the feast of Christ our King. Not only does the feast complete the current liturgical year, but also anticipates the new year of grace for the liturgical year, which begins next week with the First Sunday in Advent.

On the feast of Christ our King, the Church professes that Jesus Christ is the world's salvation, the shepherd-king who lays down His life for His sheep. (Jn 10:1-30) He is the Father's gift to humankind, and our minimal response is gratitude for his coming among us to assume our human condition in all things but sin. St. Peter captures the meaning of the feast when Jesus asks if he wants to leave his friendship. “Lord, to whom shall we go,” replies Peter, “you have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)

Why has the Church's celebration of Christ the King assumed a new urgency? In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed this feast to overcome the prevailing errors of the time of materialism, secularism, and relativism. Today, unbelief, religious indifference, and a neo-paganism have been added to the list. Taken all together, they pose a direct assault on a moral and a Christian way of living. Disaffected Catholics have left the Church only to ally themselves with at least one of these isms.

Our culture has grown secular and Christophobic. While spewing the name Jesus Christ in anger or rage fails to raise an eyebrow, it has been banished in polite company. Most conversations barely tolerate mention of God.

The Call to Discipleship

Jesus is described as an exceedingly attractive, human, and charismatic person, as handsome as a man can be, as an apt commentary on Ps 45:2 says, “you are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured out upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you for ever.” Jesus calls his disciples to share in his life and mission (Mt 4:18-22); the Galilean women followed him spontaneously. (Lk 8:1) Out of their own resources, they looked after Jesus and the Twelve without counting the cost. The call to follow him continues to goes out to all and to each, personally and in particular.

Ambassadors for Christ

In Early Christianity, it was a crime to attend the celebration of the Eucharist. Such activity rejected the pagan cult of the state and was outlawed under pain of death. But the Early Christians could not live without the Eucharist which gave meaning to their lives. They held fast to their weekly worship and met together, kept vigil from Saturday night until Sunday morning, and celebrated the Eucharist.

Against the attack on Christianity, the feast of Christ the King boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe. In particular, the feast affirms the messianic kingship of Christ won through his self-emptying death on the cross. Great figures in history have built a better world, but none of them claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life.” Neither did any claim to be God’s Son and the redeemer of the world. The feast bids all men and women, and particularly Catholics, to find meaning and hope in him who is the power of God. Each of us is an “ambassador for Christ,” (2 Cor 5:20) as is suggested by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“. . .The just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is –
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.”

Jesus Heals Ten Lepers

Ten lepers came to Jesus for healing. (Lk 17:11-19) The nine who were cured went on their way as ingrates. Only the one recognized the transformative power of God’s healing, and he thanked the Master. Jesus was offended and said so: “Weren't ten healed? Where are the other nine!” Where are we?

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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