Thanksgiving is a good time to step back from the pressures of work, reflect on the course of our lives and remember that gratitude is the beginning of joy.  It’s also an opportunity to remember whom we’re thanking, and why we’re thanking him. The holiday has vividly Christian roots, and it makes little sense without its religious origins.  Americans certainly don’t need to be Christian to enter into the spirit of the day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of a fundamentally higher reality: our dependence on a loving Creator.

In a world so often marked by suffering and want, God has blessed us with abundance – both as a nation and as individuals.  No one “owes” us this abundance.  Other people around the world work just as hard as we do, or harder, and receive far less from life.  As Scripture says:  To whom much is given, from them much will be required (Lk 12:48).  Thus we Americans have the privilege to turn our hearts to God in gratitude, but we also have God’s invitation to share our abundance with those who have less than we do.

This weekend, on December 1, we also celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, which opens the new Church year.  It’s a chance to begin again; a time to examine our hearts in the light of the Gospel, repent of our sins and look for the coming of our Savior.

We can’t really experience or understand Christmas unless we first conform our hearts to the longing of Advent.  Advent calls us all to refocus our lives on God’s promise of deliverance and the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus Christ, our Deliverer – who came to us first in Bethlehem, comes to us today in the Eucharist, and will come again at the end of time.

As the Church reminds us throughout our lives, our Catholic faith, if it’s genuine, must have consequences – first in our private choices and conduct, but also in our public witness.  If we really believe in the coming of a Messiah, our lives will reflect that in the way we treat our families, our friends and business colleagues, the poor, the homeless and the suffering.

Real faith will drive us to live our lives in a spirit of humility, hope and courage, as Mary of Nazareth did.  It will also guide us to press our elected leaders – of both political parties — for laws and social policies that respect the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew the reality of poverty firsthand.  They knew the fear of being without shelter; of being hunted by enemies and being “strangers in a strange land” as refugees in Egypt.  This week might be a good time to remember that millions of immigrants in our own country – many of them undocumented; men and women who in many ways underpin our economy – feel that same uncertainty and vulnerability.  That’s why continuing efforts at immigration reform are so urgently necessary and so in need of Catholic involvement.

But immigration is only one of a dozen pressing issues like defending the unborn child, religious liberty, strengthening marriage and the family, and support for the elderly and disabled, which now face our country and cry out for prayer and action by Christians.  All genuinely Catholic action begins and ends in the worship of Jesus Christ.  If we want to change the world, we begin by saying “yes” to God, as Mary did. We begin with our own obedience to God, using Mary as our model.

The Thanksgiving holiday and the season of Advent give us a chance to start over; to begin the new Church year with a longing for God that leads to Bethlehem, to our own renewal, and to the conversion of the world.

So may God grant all of us the gift of his presence around the Thanksgiving table.  And may God stay with us in the weeks ahead, as we ready ourselves for the birth of his son.