Thanksgiving – Our Civil “Holy Day”

Thanksgiving Day is the closest thing we have to a national holy day.  Even in the wake of the tsunami of secularism that has swamped our culture, on this day we Americans not only ask God to bless us, but we return thanks to God for the blessings we so abundantly and regularly receive.  In a certain respect, Thanksgiving Day is a civil “holy day”.  It is our time to thank God publicly as we have for generations.  We do this by bringing our schools, government offices, businesses and even most of the entertainment world to a pause.  (Thankfully, this does not include all of the sports world!) We all go home, if we can, to spend time with family and friends.

The days surrounding Thanksgiving, we are told, are the most traveled of the year. Airports, train stations, bus terminals and highways are filled with people making the great national trek home.  Why?  Because the people of our great land have chosen to be with those they love the most on a day that says, thank you, God, for so much that you have given us.

As we celebrate this day of rejoicing, this family day of offering thanks coupled with a practice of perhaps eating too much, we see the tradition passed on in schools, public events, churches, synagogues and mosques.  Let us never forget that it is God we are thanking.

These celebrations harken back to an early moment in our history.  Almost 400 years ago a frail, small ship that had somehow braved the Atlantic sailed onto the Massachusetts coast.  It carried into Plymouth a handful of women and men who were prepared to endure the unknown and very great sacrifice in order that their lives would be free.

Before they even stepped ashore, they signed an agreement that reflects what has become a part of our own national vision.  The Mayflower Compact recognizes our dependence on God and gratitude to God while declaring the freedom of each individual – a freedom bound only by the laws of God and the needs of the common good.

As Americans, we praise God for the gift of freedom.  We thank God that we have been born and raised in a society that cherishes, nurtures and encourages personal freedom, political freedom and religious freedom.  As we are grateful for the freedom to be who we are and all that God intends us to be, we need to remember that freedom did not come without great cost.

It took a revolutionary war to establish our political freedom, a civil war to extend that freedom to all women and men, and a series of wars, including two that we call world wars, to ensure that this freedom was not taken from us.  We wage less violent, but equally necessary, “wars” against drugs, racial prejudice, abortion, religious bigotry, pornography – all those actions and attitudes that erode true human freedom and cheapen human life.

On Thanksgiving Day we have an opportunity to take a good look at who we are as a people.  In a sense, we all stand on the deck of the Mayflower.  We need to renew our faith in God, our commitment to God’s law and our personal dedication to human freedom.  We must always be vigilant in defending the freedoms we enjoy in America.

In this Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI, as Catholics we are thankful for the gift of our faith, and of our baptismal call to share our faith with others, especially with family members and friends who may have drifted from the faith or never heard the Good News of Jesus.  Our call to participate in this work of the New Evangelization can begin in a simple way, by praying and witnessing to our faith as we are gathered around the dinner table at home on Thanksgiving.

As people of faith and proud Americans, we are thankful for our religious freedom.  Let us recommit ourselves to standing strong throughout the year for the principles we value as Catholics, in a secular world where the defense of life, religious liberty and even marriage are being eroded.

On this day, we thank God for this great land, our freedom and also for the gift of faith. Thanksgiving is all about God blessing America and our pausing, publicly and privately, collectively and personally, to say, “Thank you.”