Another Thanksgiving is upon us.
Every year families across the nation pause over dinner to give thanks for the wonderful things that have happened in their lives. Some use the occasion to share their most pleasant or worst stories of the year.
Given the current political climate, there won’t be any shortage of stories this year.
But for us in Detroit, Thanksgiving this year should also remind us that good deeds never go unrewarded, even after decades and centuries of impact. That those who sacrificed at great length through the pipelines of history to give others who are less fortunate a sense of humanity, are recognized and celebrated for their benevolence.
One clear example was the beatification of Detroit’s own Father Solanus Casey, who was elevated to “Blessed” by the Vatican during a magnificent ceremony last Saturday evening at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.
Speaker after speaker reminded us during the ceremony — which puts Casey one step away from sainthood and was presided over by Vatican representative Cardinal Angelo Amato — that Casey did not shrug off his responsibility to the poor. He catered to the neglected, abandoned and powerless.
Casey’s legacy is being kept alive by the Father Solanus Guild on Detroit’s east side, which offers this description of the priest on its website: “Always available to the poor, the sick and the troubled souls, he (Casey) brought comfort to people from every age and walk of life. He was ready and willing to listen to anyone anytime.
“His ministry of charity and comfort was especially noted during the Great Depression of 1929 when his concern for the poor inspired the Detroit Capuchins to establish their soup kitchen, a service of charity that continues to this day.”
Evidently, the work of the priest, who died in 1957 at age 86, was reflective of his conscientious efforts to be known as an unashamed advocate for the downtrodden. That is why his good deeds are remembered as a monument of grace and a stone of hope in a world where there is little regard for the sanctity of human life.
As a product of a Catholic education in my formative years, one can appreciate how the educational mission of the church is directly tied to its social teachings of upholding human dignity and the common good, which Casey exemplified so greatly.
There are many who feel dehumanized because of their place in society. Inequality has driven them to the margins. The example that Casey and others like him set by treating everyone with respect regardless of their material conditions should compel us to reach out and help those who are most vulnerable during this holiday period.
Thanksgiving should be more than just enjoying a dinner with families and friends. It should also be a time to reflect and remember those whose worlds have been torn apart by disasters such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
It is a time to remember our troops who are overseas away from their families in defense of the cherished freedoms taken for granted here at home.
It should be a moment to think about families whose lives have been uprooted by political upheavals, forcing women and children to live as refugees.
It should be a period to remember those children in Detroit whose future is being stolen by the ravages of poverty.
Casey would have been concerned about all four: victims of hurricanes, veterans, refugees and Detroit’s poor children.
The meaning of Thanksgiving is incomplete if we fail to recognize that it requires us to demonstrate the interdependence of the human family, and that what affects one, affects us all. That despite the diversity of cultures we are all tied in the same garment of destiny.
“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race. We all share the same basic values,” Kofi Annan, a former secretary general of the United Nations, once said.
Casey would have understood that. Those values were engraved on his life. He set out on a mission to be a champion for those with the greatest need.
The call to not forget families in need is also echoed across the political spectrum during this time.
“This is not the hardest Thanksgiving America has ever faced. But as long as many members of our American family are hurting, we’ve got to look out for one another. As long as many of our sons and daughters and husbands and wives are at war, we’ve got to support their mission and honor their service,” former President Barack Obama said in his 2010 Thanksgiving address.
“And as long as many of our friends and neighbors are looking for work, we’ve got to do everything we can to accelerate this recovery and keep our economy moving forward. And we will. But we won’t do it as any one political party. We’ve got to do it as one people.”
Three years earlier, another former president, George W. Bush, in his Thanksgiving reflection said: “We are grateful to live in a more perfect union. Yet our society still faces divisions that hold us back. These divisions have roots in the bitter experiences of our past — and have no place in America’s future. The work of realizing the ideals of our founding continues. And we must not rest until the promise of America is real for all citizens.”
And the work continues because the challenges remain.
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