By Bishop Edward J. Burns,
‘A Bishop’s Perspective’ for the Juneau Empire
On Wednesday of this past week, I was walking home at the end of the workday and after attending to some errands downtown when I was stopped by a gentleman along Egan Highway just beyond the Hanger. He asked if I could help him and if I had any spare change. I asked his name and he told me it was Mark.
I introduced myself and asked him how I could help. He said he just needed assistance to get something to eat. We talked about the Glory Hole homeless shelter and what they might be able to provide. He mentioned something about their rules and regulations, which he indicated that he supports, but that he was unable go there. I inquired where he lived or where he slept at night and he just simply gestured towards the water bank and said “Many times I just sleep over there.”
We had a nice talk and our conversation continued about some of his needs. It was my hope to present him with some options and offer support. As the conversation went on for a while I definitely wanted to fulfill his initial request. I opened up my wallet and gave him what I could. At that moment he said something but I didn’t understand it. I told him that I didn’t catch what he had said. He said it a second time and I still didn’t understand him. He recognized by the look on my face that I still didn’t comprehend what he was saying.
We had been standing there in the rain with the lights and noise of the traffic as well as the unavoidable spray from the vehicles – but he was patient with me. At that moment he said, “I’m saying ‘thank you’ in Tlingit – Gunalchéesh.” Mark then demonstrated more patience with me as I tried to pronounce back to him. I was grateful for the exchange and for him sharing a part of himself and his culture with me.
Thanksgiving is a time for us to say, ‘Gunalchéesh’. Although Thanksgiving is observed by Americans of all faiths (as well as by those who are not religious), this day on which we gather in our gratitude for all that we have been given comes to us from the very beginnings of our national experience. It is an observance with deep roots in the Christian belief and piety of our forebearers who came to this country.
It is easy to take God and God’s many gifts for granted when all is well in our lives. Sometimes, we only turn to God on in times of sickness, sorrow and great need. But this holiday is an opportunity to foster a grateful spirit and to receive the blessing that comes from gratitude to God.
This holiday gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we are most grateful for: for our children, for our husband or wife, for our families and all those who we love and who love us, for the gift of life itself and for this beautiful and marvelous world that God has placed us in.
Here in Juneau, we can be particularly thankful for the natural bounty and beauty that surrounds us; for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimsian peoples, the first inhabitants of this place; for all who make up the generous and caring community that we belong to; for the freedom and liberties that we hold on to in this country (in contrast to so many communities in other parts of the country that are deprived of such rights); and for those who risk their lives on our behalf: our police and firefighters and our men and women in the armed forces.
We are called in charity and truth to respond to the sufferings that afflict our neighbors. And we should stand in solidarity with those most affected by hardships or misfortune. From my perspective, as the shepherd of the Catholic community, we should always look for ways to be of service and help our neighbors, especially those who are in need.
On Thursday, many families throughout our community who gather for Thanksgiving dinner will pause for a few moments to give thanks to God. In those moments of giving thanks, we shouldn’t forget the encounters or exchanges we have with others and the wonderful ways they may have shared a part of themselves with us.