ThanksgivingFATHER KENNETH BAKER, S.J.
Thanksgiving Day, on the fourth Thursday in November, is a major event in American culture and life.
In its origins, going back to the pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, the celebration was primarily religious. After bringing in the harvest, and having profited from the abundance of nature, the pilgrims, trying to survive in a huge, untamed and dangerous new country, set aside a day to give thanks to Almighty God for his many benefits. It was fitting and proper that they should do so. We can thank Mr. Lincoln for setting aside one day in the year to give thanks to God for his goodness to us, personally, and for the abundance of nature that sustains us in life.
Most Americans still believe in God, and many go to church on Sunday, but secularism and materialism have taken their toll, so that the country, as such, is not as religious as it was in the beginning, or even as it was in the time of Lincoln. Since about the 1960s, there has been a concerted effort, on the part of many leaders in education, politics and the media, to ignore God, and to remove him from the public square. In a certain sense, belief in God is on the defensive, and secularism is constantly on the attack. Human freedom has been made into an absolute, and so God, with his Ten Commandments, is portrayed as an enemy of human freedom. That is just the opposite of the truth, since obedience to God, and love of him, is what makes a person truly free – that is, free to be what he should be, not free to do whatever he feels like doing. Consequently, for many Americans, Thanksgiving Day no longer has a religious meaning; rather, it is a day off from work, time for a turkey dinner and four-day weekend. For these folks, one wonders to whom their thanksgiving is directed. Is it to Uncle Sam?
Thanksgiving, which is another word for the virtue of gratitude, has as its object the recompense, in some way, to a benefactor for the gifts one has received. When one receives a favor from someone, the proper response is one of gratitude. Thanksgiving is one of the four types of prayer; the others are adoration, petition and satisfaction. Accordingly, once we recognize the great value of the many gifts that God has given to us, both natural and supernatural, we should thank the Lord for his goodness. Everything we have, except our sins, is a gift from God. This includes our body, our soul, family, friends, the food we eat – everything. God is the Creator of heaven and earth. In my own case, he made me out of nothing, and raised me to the supernatural level, so that my final purpose of existence is to live forever in his presence, in happiness and love. For that, I can never thank him enough.
The Church gives thanks to God in the Gloria at Mass: "We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory" In the Preface for each Mass, the Church gives thanks to God for his many benefits: "It is truly meet and just, right and profitable for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to Thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Everlasting God" Jesus himself gave thanks to his Father at the Last Supper before changing bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. The first Christians were so grateful, that they referred to what Jesus did as "Eucharist,” which means "thanksgiving"
We all have hundreds of reasons to be thankful to Almighty God for his goodness to us. Because of his love for each one of us, he created us in his own image and likeness. It is a wonderful thing to be at home for Thanksgiving, and to enjoy the company of one’s family and close friends. It is wholesome to enjoy a turkey dinner of celebration. This year, let us make a special effort to include God in our celebration of Thanksgiving. Let us give thanks to God for his blessings to us personally, natural and supernatural, and for the blessings he has bestowed on America. With a sincere heart let us say, Deo gratias, thanks be to God.
Reprinted with permission of the author and Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
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