Bishop Caggiano: Make Thanksgiving a time of ‘positive encounter’
I’ve often heard it said that despite our considerable political differences as a nation, far more unites than divides us as Americans. And for me, Thanksgiving is the holiday that best demonstrates our shared values.
It is one of the busiest travel days of the year with people crisscrossing the country to be with family and friends. More than anything, Thanksgiving is a time most of us head home and celebrate the American values that can be found in faith, family life and the bounty of our culture. It is a tradition that binds us together, and in many households, an occasion of lively talk across the dining room table.
It is within this spirit that we should reflect on the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States. In addition to reminding us of the need to enjoy a personal and enduring encounter with our Lord, Pope Francis challenged us to dialogue with one another and the world. This is a challenge that is more difficult than it seems at first.
The pope said that true dialogue involves persons listening with their “hearts” to the thoughts, concerns, hopes and fears of the people. It requires that we “encounter” the person with whom we are speaking or sharing a conversation in a personal way.
In this Christian sense, dialogue is not simply meant to exchange views in an intellectual discussion to arrive at some “consensus.” Rather, dialogue allows one person to share what is truly of concern to him or her in a spirit of charity and asks the person listening to empathize and respond with the mind and heart of our Lord. Thus, all the qualities that govern our personal relationship with God must also be applied to our “neighbor” if true dialogue can take place.
Increasingly in our media and often in our acquaintances, we are drawn toward a kind of “bias confirmation,” which means we seek a world in which we talk only with those who share our opinions, views or political affiliation. Instead of fostering greater communion among people, such contemporary talk actually has the opposite effect — creating “camps” that harden their positions and lead to polarization and division, all for the sake of moving personal or group agendas and not in service of the truth or the common good of society.
We would be foolish to think that this spirit of polarization cannot creep into our own circle of friends, colleagues or even our own hearts. We must be totally honest with ourselves and be on guard not to adopt the notion of dialogue as exclusion or a hardening of our hearts.
Is there a group or person about which we have made a negative judgment and are not open to hearing anything further? Is there a person that we have already judged to be “so liberal,” “so conservative,” “so traditional,” or “so divisive” that our views are hardened and we have no intention of truly encountering them and opening our minds and hearts to dialogue as the Lord did with all those he met?
Have we judged some people to be “so lost,” “so sinful,” or “so out of touch” that we have decided, perhaps unconsciously, no longer to waste our time with them? If you and I answer “yes” to questions such as these, then we can begin to appreciate the challenge that Pope Francis has set before us. Thanksgiving is a good time to ask ourselves these questions and rise to the challenge of true encounter.
One way we most eloquently, beautifully and compassionately speak in unison as Americans is through our commitment to works of charity. I am humbled to say that on this great American holiday, people of all faiths and political stripes are working side by side in our Catholic Charities soup kitchens to feed the hungry, and many others from our parishes and ministries are serving those in need this weekend and every week of the year.
As we observe Thanksgiving 2015, may we celebrate the good work done out of our great faith traditions and truly learn to value all that binds us together as Americans.
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.