This Thanksgiving season marks our 45th anniversary of being part of the most wonderful community and family in a church that houses us all. Over these last 45 years, we have done what our faith calls us to do—have a conversation about Thanksgiving, not just the holiday, but truly giving thanks. Those many years ago, we drove from Toledo to Detroit, one week married and one day a priest on February 6, 1972? For what? To be a parish priest. But how? I didn’t know. Was there a community? I wasn’t sure. Was there a building? No. Was there a place for us to sleep or hold church services? No. How many people were there? About a dozen families all with the same desire—to do what God wants us to do— build a church. For 45 years, we expressed loyalty, for it is the core of love, to be lived in season and out of season. Loyalty stands by prayer and prayer strengthens and invites us to live and trust in God, unconditionally.
For the first ten years, I went through two major adjustments. Being married to my wife, Nouhad and being married to our parish. Both adjustments went hand in hand. Often, we suffered from a lack of communication, arguing about what to do, who was right and who gets to make the decisions. We argued over money, especially when there was none to be found. But, during all this arguing we learned to adjust and keep going. It wasn’t all about me, but about the Body of Christ, the community- it was about and still is about the One we came to serve, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who led the way and took us from the valleys where we were wanderers and directed us home. As I remember from my earliest memory, my mother always told me that no matter the circumstances, the promise of the Lord; “He is always with us until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20)
Today, our conversation is about Thanksgiving and the gratitude we have to the others that came before us. Who were these others? They were your grandfathers and grandmothers, your parents, and aunts and uncles. Many of you who were small children when I first arrived are now parents, and even grandparents. What makes all our relationships strong is the belief that miracles happen when we work together. As St. Paul says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2) Where we are today, as a community and as a family is a reminder of what Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We owe much to those who have gone before us, who led us personally and to the current children and grandchildren of those giants.
This cloud of witnesses has always been strong, and in those early days, the giant shoulders belonged to formidable people. But in my interactions with them, I came alive and found my voice. “You know you are truly alive when you are living among lions,” says K. Blixen. We are to make our shoulders available for future generations. How can this be done? We can do all things as long as we guard and nurture the mustard seed of faith, through prayer which produces kindness, and kindness which produces gratitude, for gratitude will always lead to the kingdom of God. St. Basil reminds us, “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship and he who plants kindness gathers love.” We need to be mindful that the grace of our Lord is among us, for Thanksgiving does not happen once a year, but every Sunday as we partake in the Holy Eucharist, for the eucharist means to give thanks.
As we come together, as the community of St. Mary’s Basilica, we give thanks to God, who sent us to each other, to gather love and reap friendship. Our hearts are filled with thanks giving-with gratitude to our own community. Gratitude is a medicine for the soul that expands the good things in life and helps us endure the difficult things with dignity and honor. Thomas Rosich once wrote, “The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past.” An Arabic proverb states, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” We are here today because we stood firm in faith.
After 45 years, we give thanks to you and above all to the Lord Who made us grow and achieve, and He gave us a house of prayer to praise His Holy Name. These past 45 years has been made possible by prayer and supplication. We all give thanks to the Lord and the Church of His Mother, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary. Our cup has always been full, even running over.
May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving, you are in our prayers; today and always.
Fr. George and Nouhad Shalhoub