Giving Thanks in Times of Trouble
I’ve never been one to get too excited about secular holidays, but one I do really appreciate is Thanksgiving. Out of all of them, this one most directly expresses that central Christian attitude of gratitude. It is good for us to be grateful at all times for the blessings God has given us. As St. Paul teaches, we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thes 5:18). But for Catholics, the concept of thanksgiving is fundamentally part of our worship of God.
Jesus’ offering of himself to God the Father on the cross for our salvation is essentially an act of thanksgiving. That’s why we call our participation in that sacrifice Eucharist — the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” The idea of gathering together with loved ones around a table to celebrate a ritual meal of thanksgiving is nothing new to Catholics. We’ve been doing it for two thousand years.
But this Thanksgiving will be different. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Many of us won’t be able to gather with our loved ones. We won’t be able to celebrate as we are used to. We may not feel like celebrating at all. Some of us may even be asking, “What do we have to be thankful for?”
It is good for us to recall that the American holiday of Thanksgiving was established at a time when our country was literally tearing itself apart. In October of 1863, “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” as he put it, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November be kept “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” (Read Lincoln’s full Thanksgiving Day proclamation).
What most Americans think of as the first Thanksgiving is the meal shared between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621 to celebrate a successful corn harvest; a harvest which came after a brutal winter during which over half of the colonists died.
And lest we forget, the greatest thanksgiving meal, the Eucharist, was instituted by Christ when he was on the cusp of his Passion. On the night before he died, our Lord took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and shared it with his disciples (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-24).
For many this year, Thanksgiving will be a struggle. It is easy to give thanks when our blessings are obvious but not so easy in the midst of difficulties. But that is exactly the point of our Thanksgiving Day celebration, and the reason why we are reminded to give thanks to God at each and every Mass. It is precisely during times of trouble when we must pause and express our gratitude to God.
What Jesus shows us through his great thanksgiving, the Eucharist, is that true thanksgiving is more than a feeling of gratitude; it is something that should be outwardly expressed by sharing our blessings and giving of our self in love.
This Thanksgiving, let us recall the many blessings God has bestowed and continues to bestow upon us, even amidst the chaos of this world, mindful that the greatest blessing of all is the gift of salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. This blessing is available to us always, no matter our circumstance. It will only be fully realized in the world to come, but our gratitude for it in this world is our surest source of peace.
Wishing you all a very blessed Thanksgiving,