There is an Old English word "wilcuma" that was once used to describe a person whose visit or arrival was pleasing. It is the root of our word "welcome," as in "You are welcome in my home" or, in a slightly different context, "You are welcome for whatever it has pleased me to do for you."
"You are welcome," is then our customary response to a personís expression of thanks. However, these days it is facing increasing competition from the ubiquitous, "No problem!" which I suggest translates into "Donít worry you are not a nuisance!" causing me to want to reply, "But are you sure?" It is far from the positive, joyful sentiment..."I am pleased to see you and to be of service."
Are we then in danger of losing our sense of what it means to be welcoming? And if such is the case, surely it relates to the obvious decline in everyday expressions of gratitude. Saying or writing "Thank you" is becoming more and more of a rarity.
"Thanks be to God!" How many times a day do we hear this said? Almost always it is nothing more than a reflex with little, if any, accompanying sense of gratitude to God.
Does this mean that we are becoming less and less of a thanksgiving people and, in its highest form, a less consciously Eucharistic people?
I remain uncertain. I am simply sharing the questions with you because we will never find the answers unless we ask the questions.
It is interesting that in both rural and urban parishes we still rely heavily on the harvest theme. There is great wisdom in this because it is so fundamental.
This past summer I visited with a friend and his delightful family in Maine. He is an author of some repute and has a great interest in early American history. He guided me over a recent archaeological site where they are unearthing one of the earliest British settlements in America. They have ascertained that the first and largest building to be constructed was the storehouse for food. Survival during the winter would depend upon the fall harvest and its proper storage. It was simply a matter of life or death.
The roots of Thanksgiving as we know it were planted there. It was and should remain a time to thank the author of life for life.
Here in this historical church surrounded by its fertile landscape, the harvest theme remains richly symbolic ...not as dramatically as in the time of our forefathers and mothers but still readily understandable.
But for those who live and die in the paved and packaged world of major cities it has become largely meaningless.
I suggest that new, universal symbols of Thanksgiving are called for. Symbols that are applicable to all of us. The traditional symbols, where they still apply, should be maintained but perhaps augmented by more universal symbols of gratitude for the gift of life. Gratitude expressed by respect for life at every level of creation; especially human life from the beginning to the end.
Traditional thanksgiving dinners most often involve at least one big turkey Önot a filet mignon. This is because "giving thanks" is the twin sister of "sharing." After all, to thank God for His blessings and then to retire to oneís own store house to enjoy good fortune without lifting a finger to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely or console the mourning would constitute a major insult to Our Heavenly Father.
So our Thanksgiving should be less reflective of personal consumption and more reflective of global sharing and of heartfelt conviction of the significance of our ministerial roles as baptized Catholics in the service of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and consequently of all creation.