Last month at our annual priests’ convocation in Newport, in my address to the priests I recited my personal litany of thanks as I draw near the end of my tenure as archbishop here in western Oregon.  With our national celebration of Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought I would share similar sentiments with you.  As I look back over the years, this year in particular, I do indeed have to know how to count pretty high if I am going to be able to acknowledge all my blessings.  Here I will share some with the hope they will prod you to count your own blessings before Thanksgiving Day.

First and foremost, I sincerely thank almighty God for the many ways in which he has graced me - my life, my faith, my vocation to ordained ministry, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my health, my home, even my failings and foibles which keep me from becoming too self-assured.  Jesus himself gave us the perfect prayer of thanksgiving in the Eucharist.  The privilege of celebrating Mass every day has been indeed the greatest blessing in my life.  

Family and friends are a given.  The problem is, being a given, we can take advantage of them and fail to acknowledge their importance in our lives.  No one has ever publicly criticized me during my fifteen years here for flights I take back to the Midwest from time to time.  I love my family and I sense they even love me.  My two sisters and brother-in-law are dear friends, together with my nephews and their families.  All my aunts and uncles are gone but cousins abound.  They too stay in touch and remind me of my roots which have provided me with a solid faith, a good work ethic and the human support we all need.

Once again this Thanksgiving I thank God for the wonderful people with whom I’ve been collaborating here as archbishop as well as the folks back in southern Minnesota and Chicago.  My closest colleagues in the Cabinets here and the Curia in Minnesota have been industrious, wise and zealous disciples, serving the church’s evangelizing mission. The other employees at the Pastoral Center and my residence have made it possible for me to be out and about, trying my best to stay in touch with folks and be present to them in their joys, their sorrows and their needs.  Three of these folks, in particular, have served me so faithfully.  I think of Rozanne Johnson, my Executive Assistant, who sends me off in the right direction every day; Todd Cooper, my Special Assistant, who has coordinated so many liturgical celebrations, various advisory meetings and collaborative gatherings, pilgrimages and travels up and down the I-5 corridor; and  Sister Geralda Meskill, OSF, who has been the homemaker at my residence the entire time of my ministry here.  

In particular, I want to recognize Bishop Ken Steiner, who has been such a loyal, amiable and generous partner in episcopal ministry.  I don’t think he has ever refused a request I made of him to be present at some event that requested or needed the presence of a bishop.  In addition, there were many others who have sought out his assistance.  He supposedly retired last year on November 25th.  But, apart from no longer being a pastor in a parish, his schedule seems pretty much the same.  Thanks be to God he still finds time to get in a quick nine at a nearby golf course!

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has been my parish these fifteen years.  I have enjoyed the friendship and support of so many parishioners, but in particular I must mention the three fine pastors who served there during my tenure, as well as the parish staff, always there to make me feel a part of the team, even though I was not able to be present as much as I would have liked.  Celebrating the liturgy at the cathedral has been a great grace.  The wonderful choir, the beautifully renovated church, the active participation of parishioners and visitors, all this and so much more lifts my spirits and make me proud of our cathedral church.

Then there are all the memories.  I remember how Bob Hope used to sing, when I was a kid, “Thanks for the memories!”  It seems to me that one of the most difficult things about being afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease is living without memories.  This year alone I recall with deep gratitude the wonderful pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the 96 folks who accompanied me on that holy journey.  I think of all the ordinations to the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate that it was my privilege to celebrate in the year 2012.  The warmth, enthusiasm and hopefulness of our 42 seminarians at Mount Angel Seminary, the Pontifical North American College in Rome, St. Patrick Seminary and Sacred Heart School of Theology always stir up great hope in my heart for the future of our church.  Once again we had a wonderful Chrism Mass on Monday of Holy Week.  I even had a very pleasant and relaxing vacation with friends and family both in Chicago, southern Minnesota and southwestern Michigan.

Looking back over all the years of my episcopal ministry, certain days do stand out.  One of the best was June 25, 2000, when we celebrated the gift of our faith at the Coliseum in Portland.  It was an all-day event at which 10,000 of us participated and during which we launched the third millennium of Catholic evangelization.  I also remember the two years, nine months and eleven days of our archdiocesan bankruptcy from 2004 to 2007.  That was certainly not the best of times, but it was not the worst of times.  Sometimes pain and suffering can bring people together and I sensed a great spirit of solidarity among parishes and parishioners.  The dark clouds overhead, with the threat of losing so much that we had worked to build, never brought us to despair.  That was a special grace from God and a marvelous way in which we strengthened the unity of our local church.  I certainly would have preferred achieving solidarity and unity in a very different way, but that was our moment and you all handled it so well.  Then too I acknowledge the gracious hospitality I have received throughout the archdiocese at all parishes and institutions.  This year the hospitality has included many farewells.  But it has become increasingly embarrassing since the farewells all started last year and I am still here!  

Last but not least I thank God for the great gift of our religious freedom, a treasure that we no longer can take for granted.  The creeping secularism of the age threatens us.  As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it is good to remember Whom the founders of this great land felt it was appropriate to thank.  Who? Of course, our loving God!  The secularists would like to privatize our expressions of faith.  They fear, for some strange reason, any expression of the good news we celebrate.  My dear friends, don’t be afraid to be who you are, disciples of Jesus, sisters and brothers in Christ, joyful and proud members of the Catholic Church of western Oregon.  God bless America!  Happy Thanksgiving!