“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others,” Cicero wrote. But damn it, practicing gratitude is more difficult than forgiving people right now. Did the Romans count their blessings when their city was sacked in 410? “Happy Thanksgiving — not that it is very happy,” I grumbled earlier today on my morning coffee run to the only other person I know to be a registered Republican in my Northwest Washington neighborhood. He harrumphed back, and we agreed that it isn’t easy to be thankful when you are terrified about the future. But of course this is just the time to practice gratitude. This is not the first fiscal cliff in history. We are more in need of gratitude right now than we were during any Thanksgiving of my life. We can’t have a civil society without gratitude — and, indeed, envy, the opposite of gratitude, is one of the factors that have got us as a society in such a fix.
I’m having Thanksgiving dinner with one of my oldest friends, somebody I knew in my callow youth in New Orleans, and his wife. It will be a warm and cozy affair with delicious food and good conversation (though we will all be fearful about the state of the nation). I’d be an ingrate not to know how lucky I am as we sit around the table come Thursday (or any other day, for that matter). I will not, however, have been able to forgive the voters by then. That’s going to take some work.
ANDREW C. MCCARTHY
It is in the hardest times and deepest disappointments that we invariably witness and touch what is best in us. Thanksgiving around these parts is going to be a time of recovery and reflection. I live in a community and a region that was hit very hard by the recent “super-storm.” That’s a new term in our lexicon, and the way things go they’ll probably be applying it to drizzles come April. But this one really did do a number on us, and many people’s lives will never be the same.
Some are changed for the better, though. The remoteness bred by our busy lives often melted away when someone who didn’t have to lent a helping hand. Kids witnessed these examples and learned that there is pride not just in community but also in being self-sufficient — in being the person who is a practical help to others because he knows how to take matters into his own hands.
Conservatives, too, are learning in defeat that self-reliance is the order of the day. I recently spent a weekend with a large group of political friends. I’ll confess to a bit of dread in anticipation — I thought it would be more like a wake than a retreat. Turned out, however, that people were energized, not deflated. The sense was: “Look, no one thinks it is a good thing that Obama won. But we realize now that we can never beat back those who want to devour our liberty until we clean our own house, until we take ownership and stop taking cues from leaders who don’t seem sure that liberty is worth fighting over.” It’s a very American spirit. Without it, the pioneers we fondly recall on Thanksgiving would never have forged the greatest nation in human history — greatest not because its people are the best, but the freest.
In the aftermath of the elections, many of us who are engaged in the struggle to promote a Culture of Life are having a hard time seeing any cause for thanksgiving. A committed anti-life administration was brought back into office, the defense of authentic marriage suffered a setback, and many commentators are suggesting that the Republican party jettison its pro-life and pro-marriage positions. On the world stage, peace seems more elusive than ever. In such an environment, can we see anything to be thankful for?
While our modern media tend to concentrate on the big picture, the reality is that a true Culture of Life is the product of a myriad of decisions made on the personal, individual level. When we look there, we see hope. We see fewer abortions taking place in America as more individual women and men choose life over death and more families support and welcome them. We see more women and men speaking out about the pain of their abortions, and the healing they’ve experienced through ministries like the Sisters of Life. We see more young people standing up for purity and virtue, like the Generation Life missionaries in the Archdiocese of New York. We see young adults at Pre-Cana classes choosing to get married instead of conforming to the emotional dead end of the hook-up and cohabitation mentality.
Such small steps are invisible to our media culture, but plain to see for those who look in the right place. By the grace of God and the cooperation of everyday people, a Culture of Life is being built within the ruins of our age, one heart and one life at a time. That gives us great cause for thanksgiving.
— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of New York.