Last Thursday, many families observed our national Day of Thanksgiving, characterized by family members coming together for conversation, football, and a feast, usually roast turkey with all the trimmings.
The true origins of Thanksgiving go back to ancient times when local tribes and peoples gave thanks to the gods for a successful or bountiful harvest for example the Jewish harvest festival of sukkot, thanking the Lord God for a successful harvest.
I believe the sense of gratitude is embedded in human beings, almost embedded in our DNA. It is who we are, people who have the capacity for gratitude. It shows that we are the recipients of God’s gifts, caretakers of all creation, and stewards of the earth. An attitude of gratitude reduces our tendency to selfishness, thinking of our selves first rather than second. A sense of gratitude can lead to selflessness and an awareness of the needs of others.
Our Catholic Christian faith is built on the virtue of gratitude. We are grateful for all that we have and are, that everything is God’s gift, especially as we gathered around the family table on our national day to pray and give thanks. Looking back I surmise that like you, I grew up with a fairly romanticized view of this day, how the first pilgrims joined with the Native Americans near a place they named Plymouth in a region that became the state of Massachusetts. They gathered with great equanimity and harmony. Reading the history of this feast on history.com is enlightening for all Americans.
What struck me re-reading the short article was that Abraham Lincoln who finally heeded the request of Sarah Josepha Hale to declare a national day of Thanksgiving added this thought. At the height of the Civil War in 1863, he entreated all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” Franklin Roosevelt finally declared it would be observed on the fourth Thursday in November. Lincoln saw the value of prayer for people and for our nation.
I think his entreaty is even more important today as we thank God for the opportunity to gather together last Thursday, to pray not only a blessing over the food we ate, but to pray for those who are on the margins of society, to pray for an end to racism, an end to violence, and above all to promote peace among peoples and nations and pray for peace in our nation.
Next week we begin a new church year, we enter into the season of Advent, a time of hopeful anticipation as we reflect again on the meaning of the Incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
Blessings, Father Larry Hendel