Thanksgiving with the Holy Father
By Mary J. McClusky
November 5, 2010
Pope Benedict XVI will begin Advent by celebrating a solemn “Vigil for all nascent [newly developing] human life” at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, November 27. In what some are calling an unprecedented request, the Holy Father has asked that “all Diocesan Bishops (and their equivalent) of every particular church preside in analogous celebrations involving the faithful in their respective parishes, religious communities, associations and movements.” At this moment in history, when societies are now endorsing the killing of humans as a perceived solution to social, economic, and environmental problems, the Holy Father is reminding us of the necessity and power of prayer to protect human life.
Throughout its nearly 2,000-year existence, the Catholic Church has been a preeminent guardian of human life – through her teachings, her pastoral care in countless Catholic hospitals, clinics, pregnancy care centers, orphanages, nursing homes, and hospices, and through her promotion of the common good and opposition to unjust laws. Prayer is the foundation of all these efforts. As Christians begin the Advent season of preparation for the coming of the Lord, the vigil observances will thank God for the Incarnation and ask the Lord’s protection “over every human being called into existence.”
Despite the challenge of these events being held on Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, Catholics should not miss this opportunity to pray for unborn life, in union with the worldwide Church and the Holy Father. In his Respect Life Month statement this October, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said, “I heartily encourage all Catholics, whether at home or traveling over the Thanksgiving holidays, to take part in this special prayer.”
American Catholics may reflect on the fact that the vigils, held in cathedrals and parishes worldwide, will include Eucharistic adoration and that the word “Eucharist” means … “thanksgiving!” What better way to celebrate this national holiday than by attending Eucharistic adoration and giving thanks for the gift of life, lovingly granted to each of us by God?
Consider, too, that attending a vigil may help increase awareness among family and friends about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and other threats to children in their earliest days and weeks of life. Others may be inspired to learn more, or to begin a much-needed conversation about healing from a past abortion. Many threats to human life are embedded deeply within our modern culture, and attending a vigil could remind others that God is the source of all blessings and will provide comfort and guidance in challenging times.
It is easy to become frustrated and weary in our efforts to advance protection for the unborn, support for expectant mothers, and healing for post-abortive women and men. While efforts in all these areas are important, the U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activitiesrecognizes prayer as “the foundation of all that we do in defense of human life.” It is an essential component in all individual and group pro-life efforts.
The Holy Father’s Vigil and his invitation to join with him in prayer is an important and inspiring example to all about the importance of uniting in faith to ask God’s protection and help for human life. To help dioceses and parishes plan their celebrations, the USCCB Secretariats of Divine Worship and Pro-Life Activities have developed vigil prayer aids in both English and Spanish, available at www.usccb.org/prolife/papalvigil. Catholics everywhere are encouraged to attend a special vigil in solidarity with the Holy Father. Those traveling for Thanksgiving should contact the local diocese for information. Let us all join in prayer for the Lord’s special protection “over every human being called into existence.”
Mary McClusky is Special Projects Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.