Throwback Thursday: Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good and His Love Endures Forever

St. Clement’s Island, site of Maryland settlers’ 1634 Mass of Thanksgiving

It is said that the busiest travel season is Thanksgiving.  People trek all over the country, not to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie – they can have those at home without the expense and several hours traveling.  No, they go to spend time with family.

In addition to family, some have discovered the joy of inviting to the table those who have no family of their own, sharing the festivities with those who otherwise would be alone on this day.  Here is a praiseworthy example of what Pope Francis is talking about when he calls us to be a welcoming people, working to build a culture of encounter and fraternity.

Another laudable practice around many tables involves people identifying those gifts in their lives for which they are thankful.  Even if people do not express such thanks verbally, the day invites them to reflect inwardly on the blessings of their lives.  Yet this is not called Thankfulness Day, but Thanksgiving Day.  To give thanks, rather than being merely thankful, means giving that thanks to someone.

Certainly, some of our gratitude goes to family and friends for all they do for us, but primarily our “thank you” is given to our ever-loving God for the many graces he bestows on us. We are grateful not only for the gift of food that we receive from the Lord’s bounty, but for all the blessings of our lives.

Thanksgiving is the closest thing we have to a national holy day.  The history of our nation – and of our world – shows many such days of communally giving thanks to God for his blessings with a feast.  In fact, it has been the practice of people throughout all of human history to express gratitude to the Lord for his providential goodness and celebrate with festivities.

This ability to freely exercise religion is at the root of the Thanksgiving holiday.  The Pilgrims, who gave thanks to God while sitting down for a harvest feast with their indigenous Wampanoag neighbors, came to Plymouth to escape religious persecution and be able to practice their faith freely.  Likewise, the Catholic settlers of the Maryland colony, who celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving upon their arrival, came here so that religious freedom for all people would be allowed.  And when President George Washington proclaimed “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,” it was immediately after the First Amendment was approved by Congress with the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Notably, Thanksgiving Day was established as an annual holiday not during one of these happy times, but in the midst of the horrors of the Civil War.  Nevertheless, even then, President Abraham Lincoln noted that our beneficent Father had remembered mercy and bestowed many blessings upon the land.  He also recommended that, in addition to offering thanks, the American people should with humble penitence commend to God’s loving care all those who suffered because of the war and fervently implore him to heal the wounds of the nation and restore peace, harmony and unity.

Together with this example from history, our faith reminds us that, in both good times and bad, we can find much to be thankful for, most especially the love in our lives which brings meaning to our existence, brightens our hearts with hope, and can transform not only us, but the entire world.  This is why we want to spend Thanksgiving with family – including those from our extended human family – to share our love with them.

May this Thanksgiving Day be for you a time of love, joy, appreciation and the continued blessings of God.