Holidays have the tendency to lose their connectedness to their origins. I suppose it is inevitable. None of us were there at the first Christmas. Easter, or Thanksgiving to really understand the profound moment it was. Even the very word "holiday" is rarely connected to its origin, "holy day."
We desire to mark very special experiences with a moment of pause and reflection. Anniversaries recognize the faithful endurance of highs and lows in a relationship. Civic holidays mark moments of national achievement, like our Independence Day on July 4. And our religious holy days remind us that the journey we travel now is possible only through the light and grace of God.
The journey gives meaning to the holiday. And that journey, as we hear in today’s gospel from Luke, is not always easy. Were it easy, there would be no need to celebrate the holiday. Disappointments and failures, hardships, hurt and sadness – even betrayal, as Jesus says – are woven into the story of our lives. Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, which traditionally marks the bringing in of the harvest after months of punishing toil on the raw, tough and at times unforgiving land. The harvest was not only a celebration of a successful growing season but the promise of making it through a long, cold winter ahead. It only became a national holiday when President Lincoln called the nation to a moment of prayer and thanksgiving in 1863 in the middle of the long, grueling experience of the Civil War.
Jesus does not promise a road easily travelled. He promises that he will be our companion along the way. He’s not going to take away the hardships or hurt or sadness, but he will accompany us through these to new life. He can guide us and encourage us, urging us not to give up. And in the end, like the Pilgrims 400 years ago or a young married couple celebrating a first anniversary, we can sit together in awe and say to one another, "I don’t know how we did it, but here we are. Thanks be to God!"
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.