It’s good when thanks are given

Although the “official” summer season has begun, in many ways July 4 is the kickoff of these easier months. School is over everywhere and vacations have been planned or will be planned in the near future. 

The pace of pastoral activities slows down somewhat with the ending of Religious Education classes and the closing of school. In vacation areas, the work increases with the addition of extra Masses to accommodate the summer visitors.

We do not associate July 4 with thanksgiving. It is a celebration of our independence as a country. Festivities include cookouts, barbecues, fireworks, parades, etc., to celebrate our freedom. But, as someone has noted, freedom isn’t free.

With the news constantly reminding us of the dangers and difficulties where there is no freedom, perhaps we should spend a little time this July 4 giving thanks for those who have made us a free nation and for those who continue to make it free.

As a Church, we need to pray that the freedom of religion continues as legal constraints threaten to take away that freedom. We give thanks to those who lead us in fighting for our freedom in the legislature, and those who continue to defend our right to freedom and independence in the armed services.

Recently, I had the occasion to send some flowers to a person for a significant occasion in their life. It did not take much time, but it did consume some time in making the purchase, choosing the arrangement, specifying the time of delivery and then ultimately paying for the cost of the flowers sent.

It was a pleasure to get an acknowledgement. It was by email, and was simply a four word expression of gratitude. While I might have expected a more gracious response, it was, at least, recognized.

Most of us can relate to the relative who has sent a gift for a birthday or wedding but it is never recognized. Gratitude is not a common experience these days.

Letters to “Dear Abby” and other such venues are frequently discussing the means to overcome this lack of gratitude. I can recall one suggestion that told the grandmother to send a check and not sign it. It would make the grandchild call to find out why the check was not signed. It would also provide an opportunity to speak to the child.

It is my personal goal not to cash a check or deposit a gift (not that there are that many) until a thank you note has been sent. I recall one person checking his bank statement wondering if I had received the check since it was not cashed. I explained that I wanted to send a note first.

Gratitude is not experienced today. To some extent, I think people expect others to be at their service. As a priest, you do not get many thanks from the people you serve. Much like one’s boss not saying thanks, it is just expected that you do your job. As someone has said, they don’t thank you for what you have done, but for what you are going to do.

Although one does not work for thanks, it is nice when it is given. Ultimately, we know God is aware of our efforts and is pleased with them. That’s what really counts.

It is in this context that I am pleased that those in charge in the Diocese of Fall River have scheduled an opportunity to express our gratitude to Bishop George W. Coleman for his years of service to our diocese in his ministry as priest and bishop. This will consist of a Mass of Thanksgiving and a public reception. Originally scheduled for this month, the event has been changed to August to allow those vacationing to participate. 

While being the bishop of a diocese has probably never been easy, these days it is more difficult. Not only are legal concerns always an issue, but the closing of parishes and the shortage of clergy make the episcopacy more onerous. The lack of active participation of many Catholics in their parishes heightens the problems that exist.

In the 23 years I worked with Bishop Daniel A. Cronin and Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., the number of complaints far exceeded the calls to offer thanks for their ministry.

As he awaits his retirement, it is good that we acknowledge with gratitude the many things Bishop Coleman has accomplished quietly. The pastors have collaborated with him; some, serving in more than one parish. Others have accepted difficult assignments at his request. We are grateful for how he has guided us in the love of God and neighbor in the years he has served as our bishop. 

Anyone who decides to do something is criticized, and, if they decide to do nothing, they are criticized as well. We are grateful that Bishop Coleman has had the courage to make difficult decisions and has thereby assisted the Church of Fall River. While there are challenges the new bishop will face, they will be less because of the leadership of our bishop.

My personal gratitude is expressed to Bishop Coleman for his support and allowing me to continue as diocesan director for the Pontifical Mission Societies and as director of the deacons. Likewise, I am grateful for having been able to continue to serve as a Minister of Confirmation during his tenure — thank you bishop. 

As we celebrate July 4, let us be grateful for our freedom and for those who sustain it. But this year, let us also be grateful for all that Bishop George W. Coleman has accomplished. We pray his retirement years will be filled with much good health and happiness.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts