Thanksgiving Day 2016

Adapted from the homily.

When General George Washington asked the Abenaki Native American tribe to support the colonists in the American Revolutionary War, they agreed on one condition: Washington send them a Catholic priest to live with and minister to them. Washington happily obliged. The tribe in Maine received their priest and the Americans received their allies.

The Abenaki had a history with Catholicism. It began in 1689 with Fr. Sebastian Rale. This priest had labored for two years among the Illinois Indians and would go on to spend 35 years ministering to his New England flock, providing them medicine, giving them the sacraments, composing a dictionary for them in the native tongue, and teaching them about Jesus. This brave Catholic priest even fought alongside his indians. In fact, that is how his ministry came to an end. In a British and Mohawk raid on the Abenaki village Rale was shot. The story has it that he crawled to a cross in the center of the village to draw attention away from his Abenaki flock so they could escape. The pastor was tomahawked, dying literally at the foot of the cross.

The Abenaki Indians had experienced the goodness of Catholicism's priests and so they wanted another one with them 52 years later. Washington likewise experienced the goodness of Catholicism, which is why, after the victory at Yorktown, he had the Continental Congress gather at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Philadelphia to sing the Te Deum, a hymn of praise to God. Interestingly, the British called the Congress "papists" and declared the American victory a “triumph of popery.” The United States of America owes a lot to Catholicism. And that's why Thanksgiving is a very natural holy day for American Catholics.

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