The Freedom We Have Received

(Homily for Thanksgiving)

Bottom line: Like the Pilgrims we reflect on the freedom we have received.

For congregation with Spanish speaking members: Voy a dar la homilia mayormente en ingles, pero quisiera dar un resumen en espanol. Como los Peregrinos ("Pilgrims") refleccionamos sobre la libertad que hemos recibido. Y como el samaritano estamos aqui para dar gracias a Jesus - y oir las palabras bellas: "Tu fe te ha salvado."

Happy Thanksgiving Day! I'd like to begin this Thanksgiving homily with a humorous anecdote from G.K. Chesterton. In 1927 the great Englishman visited our country and gave a series of lectures. Toward the end of November "he delighted some of the audience and infuriated others by explaining that England too should have have a Thanksgiving Day 'to celebrate the departure of those dour Puritan, the Pilgrim Fathers."*

Now, I don't know if the Pilgrims were as dour as people make them, but what Chesterton says could apply to most of our ancestors: The home country was not sad to see them go. They said good-bye to our ancestors with words like these: "Good luck in America. And if you make money, please send some back to us!"

Our ancestors were not, by and large, the nobility, the elite, the cream of the crop. We were more like those described in the poem at base of the Statue of Liberty. Here is a partial quote:

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles...
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Our ancestors, again by and large, were the poor, the homeless, the tempest-tossed. In that sense we were like the lepers in today's Gospel. Because of their affliction - the terrible disease which consumed them - they were outsiders. In healing them Jesus told them to "Go show yourselves to the priests." That is, return to the worshiping community.

Only one came back to thank Jesus. He was the ultimate outsider - a Samaritan leper. Only he returned to Jesus.

What about you and me? Are we grateful to belong to this nation? I remember visiting Croatia when I was a theology student. My mom had six first cousins in a small village on the Adriatic coast. They received me wonderfully and it was a gorgeous place. But I have to admit I was thankful my grandfather and grandmother left that village - and came to America.

Perhaps today, you (like me) feel a deep gratitude for America. Our nation has embraced "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

The Pilgrims may have been dour, but they reflected on the grace of Christ and wanted others to experience his freedom. Today we see that freedom in action as Christ heals the ten lepers.

Like the Pilgrims we reflect on the freedom we have received. And like the Samaritan we are here this morning to thank Jesus - and to hear those beautiful words: "Your faith has saved you." Amen.


*Quote from G. K. Chesterton: A Biography by Ian Ker. A wonderful book!

Also worth reading: Cardinal Dolan's Presidential Address: "The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent." (November 12, 2012)

From Archives (Thanksgiving Day Homilies):

The Fundamental Freedom - Freedom of Religion
Great Dividing Line
The Power of Gratitude
Thanksgiving and Salvation
Howard Hughes vs. Dostoevsky
The Radical Virtue
Thanksgiving Day 1988

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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