Today America celebrates one of the most sacred of American holidays Thanksgiving. When you put it in historical context Thanksgiving is also one of the most ironic of American holidays. Our countries four fathers, a group of displaced religious fanatics where rescued from near starvation by a group of unknown paganists. In the years to come they would greatly and unjustly persecute the paganists. But they would forever mark their near death experience with a celebration of family and thanksgiving.
Really? Have you ever wondered what these two waring cultures can really teach us about family and thanksgiving? Well I was wondering that a few years back so I did a little research and reflection. Back then I simply posted my thoughts on facebook and walked away. Since I’m now a member of the ACNM who is in a rush to be with his Family this thanksgiving I thought I would rework some of my reflections tonight.
When I was trained to minister to women in crisis pregnancies as part of the Gabriel project. The Catholic Church instructed me, after careful study of our culture, not to even discuss adoption. The bond between adopted children and birth families bears so little respect in our culture they believed it would be more effective not to even discuss it. This was upsetting to me on a number of levels. For starters my older brother was adopted. Being pro-life is simple and personal to me and always has been.
But as a Catholic is is also disconcerting that our culture reduces familiar relations to genetic blood relations. Jesus calls us all to be his brothers and his sisters, in his eyes we are all adopted. Today we may have missed this key teaching. But this wasn’t lost on the family of the first thanksgiving.
Tisquantum was the Native American known better as Squanto. In 1614 Tisquantum had his family taken from him by European Christians. He was kidnapped by an Englishmen and brought to Europe with the intention of being sold into slavery. That would have been reason enough for anyman to dismiss the idea of a global human family as so much idealistic nonsense.
But while in Europe Tisquartum met the Brotherhood of the Friars. Even in our darkest days the Franciscan order recognized social injustice when they saw it and had the were withal to intervene. The Franciscans of course then and today stake their life on a radically different radically Catholic view of family. By taking their vows the Friars give up claim to marriage, children, wealth and individualism to join a brotherhood with the entire church. When they met Tisquantum, he was their brother. They helped to free him a return him to his homeland.
In the Americas, Tisquantum would join another family with the Wampanoag tribe. It was this tribe that would one day encounter our puritan fore fathers. When these two peoples came together only Tisquantum could translate between the two very different people.
Clearly no one could accuse Tisquantum of simply being unaware of Christians capacity for brutal hypocrisy and injustice. But he also knew about our capacity for authentic love and compassion for the other in our society. And he chose to put faith that ultimately this capacity would prove stronger.
Tisquantum chose to be a brother to the Pilgrims. He was a blessed brother to the Friars. He was a blessed brother to Jesus. And this makes him part of your family as well. The Wampanoag where brothers to the pilgrims. They where brothers of Tisquantum they are our brothers today,
Family is a beautiful gift, but this is not family day today is Thanksgiving day. Every year we celebrate this first harvest of our ancestors by thanking God for the harvest of gifts he has bestowed on us. So what can the pilgrims teach us about thanking God?
The custom of going around the table and choosing something to be thank full for is more American than the apple pie. That’s the right direction, but do we consider what this gratitude is telling us.
Our forefathers the Pilgrims, where a strict Christian sect that fled their homeland to find the freedom to practice, what they believed, was a more authentic faith than their countrymen. They fallowed their faith on a long journey across the ocean. This lead them to a land whose climate, vegetation and disease they were not accustomed to. And lead nearly half of them to die.
Clearly, during this time of great uncertainty they would have said a multitude of prayers with every saint they could thing of hoping for rescue. Well their rescue came at last the charity of an entirely alien faith and an interpreter previous Christians once enslaved.
Is this a reason to be thankful to God? This must mean that we recognize that the pilgrims rescue was an act of God. And if we recognize the pilgrims rescue as the work of God, then we that must recognize the Wampanoag people as the hands of God.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
God does his work on earth through other people. We recognize this. Many strange people. He calls all types of people to accomplish his work. The Pilgrims where convinced they had the pure authentic Christianity purer even than the Christian lands they fled. But they did not have all the gifts they would need to prosper in this new land. They would need the gifts of the Wampanoag to pass their thanksgiving onto future generations.
This must have been a troubling circumstance for the Pilgrims. They were fleeing Europe for the sake of orthodoxy. And there was nothing orthodox about the messengers God sent them. But Gods work has to be done Gods way.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
And Gods way is to use the good Samaritan to save the Jews and his way is to use the Wampanoag to save the puritan . As Jesus would ask, who are are neighbors. Well I guess on thanksgiving you know who you neighbors are.
1 John 4
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
The Wampanoag didn’t even know the name of Jesus. But they knew Charity. They knew love. They knew his spirit. Anyone who acts with love and charity is not unknown to Jesus. And because his spirit wants to know us all, his spirit will accept no strangers among us.
My challenge to you this thanksgiving. Is to be thankful. Thank God for the many miracles he works.
But when your thanking him remember what the Pilgrims learned about Gods ways. If the pilgrims rejected the gifts of the unfamiliar to their families and communities would have perished. The work of God could not have been accomplished without the Wampanoag. Those who do not love their stranger will never meet their savior.
Verses for reflection: John 1 7-13 Exodus 23 4-9 Luke 10 33-37