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Who is thankful for me? By Lambert Mbom

It is yet another celebration of “Thanksgiving” in the United States arguably the most American of all holidays. It is an eminently “familial” event. Family reunions are the staple and in fact the highest common factor that characterize the celebration. It is food, family and friends. An intrinsic part of this tradition is the annual presidential pardon of two turkeys. While it sounds perfunctory, this presidential act draws an inner connection between forgiveness and gratitude. One is here reminded of Pope Francis’ recommendation for couples to learn to say, Please, thank you and I am sorry.

In my random musings of the significance of this annual event, I could not help but notice that it comes towards the end of both the calendar year and the liturgical year of the Catholic Church. Hence, it seems thanksgiving is always a celebration of the past. It is always in the rearview.

Looking back in retrospect there is a lot to be grateful for. The many crises moments that one weathered thanks to the many Good Samaritans. One is reminded daily of Ola Rotimi’s words: “The struggles of man begin at birth.” If gold is tested in fire, then life’s storms and vicissitudes present golden moments of growth. Being a Catholic emboldens me to be grateful for the many precious moments life has “tortured” me on this earthly pilgrimage. This is not an impertinent penchant for suffering but an acknowledgement that such is life and to be grateful for these moments. After all, there is a silver lining to every cloud.

In this school of gratitude, the experience of gratitude propels one to be grateful. Hence, on this day, it seems appropriate to reflect on not just being grateful but also of being the subject of gratitude. I remember the protest somebody registered with respect to the bland response “Do not mention” when someone says thank you. One appreciates gratitude better when one is being appreciated. No matter how much we pretend, we feel slighted and hurt when we don’t get those words of appreciation. Conversely, there is a deep sense of motivation when those words “thank you” come our way. Hence, today, the question for me is more, who is grateful for and/or to me? Thanksgiving presents a dual challenge namely: to learn to be grateful but also to learn to provide opportunities for others to be grateful to us.

St. Paul captures this very beautifully when he exhorts the Corinthians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. (2 Cor.1:3-4) Gratitude calls us to action.

One of the areas of growth is in forgiveness. If the Turkey that lacks the capacity for either crime or sin is receiving forgiveness, then we who have the capacity, ask for forgiveness from and grant forgiveness to others. Opray Winfrey expresses this more poignantly when she says: “When we learn to say thank you and mean it, then we also learn to say, I am sorry. True forgiveness is when you can say, thank you for that experience.” Our celebration of thanksgiving then carries more meaning today when we can say also “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven.” A common denominator between gratitude and forgiveness is humility. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of one’s insufficiency and indication of dependency. To be able to say “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven” requires a certain modicum of humility. Gratitude and forgiveness are twin sisters to the parent, humility.

While I say thank you to the many persons that graced and laced my paths over the past 12 months, that is, since the last thanksgiving, I invariably jump to ask myself: who is grateful today that I have forgiven them or that I have apologized to them for some wrong done? Without brooding over the fact of having done something and not being recognized for it, I would rather forgive for the explicit neglect and oversight. Thanksgiving invariably takes on an added dimension within the background of forgiveness.

May families that gather around the dinner table share the meal and not just eat. Josef Pieper reminds us that the meal has a “spiritual or even a religious character.” And like Scruton adds: “That is to say, it is an offering, a sacrifice, and also – in the highest instance – a sacrament, something offered to us from on high, by the very Being to whom we offer it. Animals eat, but there is nothing in their lives to correspond to this experience of the “meal” as a celebration and endorsement of our life here on earth. When we sit down to eat, we are consciously removing ourselves from the world of work and means and industry, and facing outwards, to the Kingdom of ends. Feast, festival and faith lift us from idleness, and endow our lives with sense.” Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Prayer II: Praying with and through Saints by Lambert Mbom

It would seem that praying to God directly and praying through intermediaries are diametrically opposed. Christ is unequivocal in his teaching: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (Jn14:6) Our only pass to God is in and through Christ. St Paul himself makes this quite explicit when he says, “God wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all. (1 Tim 3-6) Christ is the only mediator. But how do we go to Christ? Christ tells us we can go to the father through him. How do we go to Christ himself?

Christ himself admits of an indirect route to reach him when he says: whatsoever you do to the least of these brothers of mine, you do unto me. It becomes clear that through others we meet Christ. John so eloquently enunciates this principle when he says: If anyone says ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 Jn 4:20) Through acts of charity and kindness to neighbor, we touch and meet God.

It seems relevant at this point to lay down an important principle, which if not properly understood only fuels the debate further. The difference between “Praying to” and “praying through” is crucial. We pray to God and to Him alone. Yet nothing precludes us from praying to God through the saints and through Mary. Yet one must say that there is nothing wrong with praying to saints, if correctly understood. We pray to them and ask for their intercession. They are in God’s company and have found fervor with God.

Is this not just a linguistic nuance that fails to capture what actually happens? In most Catholic churches, there are statues of saints and of Mary. Candles are often lit and people are seen praying in front of these statues. How else could one describe these if not as sublime acts of worship? Recently, did we not see/hear the relics of saints traveling the world? Is this not the apogee of idolatry?

As a starting point to answer these, it suffices to highlight here the difference between worshipping which is the proper action of man to God and honoring which we accord the saints.

The Mediating Role of the Saints
Saints in the Catholic Tradition are holy men and women who walked this earth, faced similar challenges and temptations like us, overcoming these and witnessing to their faith. There are many saints who have not been so declared by the Church. They are not Saints because the Church declares them but because they are saints the Church recognizes them as such.

Our devotion to saints draws from our understanding of life after death. If one believes in nihilism, the doctrine that there is nothing beyond this life or rather death brings to an end everything, then this “cult” of the saints would make no sense. But if one believes in the resurrection of the dead, then one may only be in an unfortunate psychological state of denial to refuse the doctrine of communion of saints.

For Christians of the Sola Scriptura tradition – Bible only – let me use the example of the good thief, one of those unnamed figures in the bible. Christ tells him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk.23:43) Having come to know Christ, could this man not be the patron saint of all thieves. Through him, thieves could ask for his intercession for their conversion.

In crafting a scriptural foundation for why we should pray for saints, the passage in John’s Gospel came to my mind where Christ says, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions. I am going to prepare a place so that where I am you too may follow.” (Jn. 14:2) Saints have arrived and are in the company of Jesus and so can plead the cause of those of us still on this earthly pilgrimage.

The Church’s teaching on the role of the saints is captured in the Preface for the Saints said during mass. It reads:
You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of Your unchanging love. They inspire us by their heroic lives, and help us by their constant prayers to be the living sign of Your saving power.” Saints are models; they are signposts pointing to Christ. Their lives are an inspiration above all, they pray for and with us.

I would like to borrow a leaf from pop culture and to describe saints as celebrities. It would be fun to think of canonization as a form of a Grammy award. For every journalist, it is like winning a Pulitzer. In the academic world, it is about a Nobel Prize; for music and film, it is about an Oscar or a Grammy. For the Christian, it is about sainthood. And like the song goes: Marvin Gay, you’re gone but your spirit lives on. We name our children after celebrities not just to remind ourselves of these but also in the pious hope that the example of these may inspire the named and s/he may soar to such heights and even scale them.

At the Transfiguration, the apostles had the rare privilege of meeting the prophet Elijah and Moses. To drive home the point, let us use the example of St Paul whose trajectory kicked off with a virulent persecution of the Christians Then he received the light and the scales fell off his eyes. In Paul we find the epitome of those who attack Catholicism. Would it not be proper to pray to Paul to plead for us to receive similar graces that light to shine on us that we may discover the Truth. St Paul is patron saint of those who passionately persecute the Church that they may receive God’s grace not only to stop attacking the Church but to become its defender.

The Pascalian wager is as always handy here and I dare say it is better to err on the side of excess than on the side of shortage. It is better to believe in the mediating role of saints and die and to discover that I was mistaken than to believe otherwise and discover to utter shock its instrumentality.

Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, we read: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3-4).

the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8).

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote: There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Roman Catholic Church; there are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.

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