Ecumenical Corner

November 1999

Thanksgiving Day and the Third Millennium

Ernest Falardeau, SSS

Thanksgiving Day 1999 will be very special for all of us. It is the last time we celebrate Thanksgiving Day this century and this millennium. The next time this day comes around we will be in the Jubilee Year 2000 and the Third Millennium. (Of course purists know that next year is the end of the second millennium and the century.) And so we need to look back on one (or two) thousand years of history and a century of accomplishments and give thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is a most appropriate human emotion. It has deep religious overtones. To give thanks is to realize our indebtedness to God for all his blessings. Because God loves us, we have been blessed in countless ways. All of creation proclaims the glory of God. Human beings do so intelligently and freely. "It is truly right and just to give you thanks," we pray in the eucharistic prayer of each Mass.

As we look back at our blessings we cannot help seeing our human failures as well. The past one thousand years have been years of progress, discovery, great advances in learning and technology. But they have also been years and centuries of war, prejudice, violence and death. Being grateful contains the ability to be sorry as well. Our history is far from being only patches of blue.

A recent commission report sponsored by the State Department of religious and civic leaders in the United States comes to the conclusion that religion is both the cause of many social problems as well as the solution to those same problems. Religious fanaticism complicates human living. Religious tolerance enhances human rights and freedoms. At the end of the millennium we must examine our conscience and review our history to see how we use religion and its power to transform our lives.

The Reformation

One of the important moments of history in the west is the time of the Protestant Reformation. To Catholics, this was not a good time. It was the beginning of a breakdown of Christianity. A world that had been essentially Christian and unified (at least in the West) was now breaking down into denominational and sectarian components. The church universal was now harder so see. Reformers emphasized the importance of the invisible church, the communion that exists in the hearts and consciences of believers. But the visibility of the church was also required. The kingdom of Christ was meant to be seen and heard.

The counter-reformation of the Council of Trent was more of a band-aid than a cure. In the end the Edict of Nantes (1598) settled for "cujus regio, ejus religio" (the religion of the ruler determines the religion of the people). That compromise allowed Catholics and Protestants to live in peace. However it did not prevent wars of religion to continue to exist.

The Second Vatican Council brought a new dimension, the ecumenical, to Christianity at the end of the twentieth century. The scandal of division was finally realized and the church sought to do something about it. John XXIII proposed a new agenda for the Catholic Church, that of God’s instrument for bringing about the unity of all Christians. The Catholic Church did not create the ecumenical movement. It was, the Council declared, the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moved especially among Protestants. Now the Spirit moves Catholics to a similar desire for Christian unity.

Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good

The psalms repeatedly invite us to give praise and thanks because God is good. In the light of history and in the light of faith, the goodness of God becomes ever more apparent. God has blessed us, he has blessed our land with fruitfulness. He has blessed humankind. We have much to be grateful for in our lives and in our time. But on this last Thanksgiving Day of the millennium and century, we especially give thanks that God has led us through history to a bright and better ecumenical future.

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