by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Our nation’s annual day of Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. It is a beautiful time of year when our society encourages us to ponder the many blessings in our lives.
Our annual celebration of Thanksgiving is the result of a society founded on the Christian understanding of our humanity and the purpose of our lives. For the Christian, gratitude is our natural disposition.
There is no other religion that believes what we believe about God. We believe that the Creator of the cosmos, despite the rebellion of our first parents, desires to share his life with us, even to the point of entering into our human condition. Jesus came to liberate us from the enslavements caused by our sin and the meaninglessness of an existence that ends in death.
Jesus did not come to remove all suffering and adversity. In fact, just the opposite! Our Lord tells his disciples that they must take up the cross with him and follow him all the way to Calvary.
Jesus revealed that our suffering can have meaning and power. It can provide us with the opportunity to exercise heroic love for others and to become a beacon of hope and inspiration. Our Lord’s resurrection reveals with certitude that life, not death, wins the final victory.
Our culture and society need witnesses of the Gospel of life today as much as at any time in human history. Sadly, the Christian worldview is being challenged by a growing atheistic and secular vision that believes life in this world is tragic and meaningless. It denies God’s existence and dooms its adherents to believing that all of us are either victims of oppression or perpetrators of oppression.
Recently, I read some articles authored by women who were proud of having had themselves sterilized. They believed the raising of children to be a great burden and that bringing new life into a difficult and heartless world was cruel. These women preferred to care for pets, which were not nearly as complex and demanding as raising children.
Once we push God out of our worldview, our human condition becomes very bleak. Material comforts can distract and console us for a while, but eventually adversity, violence, evil and death will catch up with us.
Our culture desperately needs the Gospel of Jesus. Those who have been captivated by atheistic materialism will not be won over by arguments — no matter how reasonable and logical. They can only be moved by witnesses of the joy and hope of the Gospel.
This is the mission of every Catholic — to be witnesses to the truth and the hope of the Christian worldview that has the ability to give meaning and purpose to life, despite hardships and adversities.
More than 10 years ago, the late Cardinal Francis George wrote a book entitled “The Difference God Makes.” In a chapter entitled “Too Good to be True,” Cardinal George recounts visiting a missionary priest in Zambia. Many of the people this missionary served were materially very poor, and from the perspective of our affluent society, lived in terrible, heartbreaking conditions.
One morning, four men came to the mission complex seeking the priest. Cardinal George told them where they could find him. Three of the men went to speak with the priest, but the fourth man chose not to accompany them. Cardinal George asked the man why he had not gone with the others to converse with the missionary.
The man explained that in his village they had heard many stories about Jesus, the Gospel and the church. His friends had come to seek more information about Christianity. The man then shared: “Oh, I’ve thought about what we’ve heard, even while I was walking here, and I’ve decided that it makes no sense when I look at my life — that God would love us, that God would sacrifice himself for us, that God is stronger than the spirits who harm us. I don’t believe it. It’s too good to be true.”
For those of us who have grown up in strong, believing families, where we were not only taught the Christian faith but saw living examples of the hope, love and joy it inspired, it is easy for us to take for granted the power and the beauty of what we have been given.
Indeed, it is incredible — too good to believe — that the Creator of the universe chose to become a human being, to be conceived in the womb of Mary and born into the harsh, impoverished circumstances of Bethlehem.
It is even more amazing that Jesus — the God-Man, lived so humbly in Nazareth and allowed himself to be subjected to the cruelest torture and most horrendous death in order for us to share in his eternal life.
Yet, it was the witness of those first disciples that motivated them to suffer martyrdom rather than deny the death of Jesus on Calvary and his resurrection on Easter. Nourished by this same Jesus, who makes himself present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, Christians for 2,000 years have found the inspiration and strength to live heroic lives of love and virtue.
This past Sunday, I celebrated Mass for the African Catholic community living in the Kansas City area. There were Africans from Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania and many other countries. The joy and the vibrancy of their faith was inspiring and contagious.
If we truly believe what we profess as Christians — that God loves us so intensely that he became flesh and chose to live in our midst in order that we might share in his abundant and eternal life — how can we not be filled with hope and joy? For the Christian, every day is a day of Thanksgiving because nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ!
There are so many in our country, so many in our communities, that need to know the joy of the Gospel of Jesus. In contrast to the depressing, atheistic, secular narrative of hopelessness, we need to be ambassadors of the hope of the Gospel of Jesus.
May our lives bear grateful witness to the truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ!