By Vir Christi
Every year come Thanksgiving time, families engage in time-honored traditions. Carve a turkey, play or watch some football, have some adult beverages, and just take a load off. In school, children are taught that the first Thanksgiving took place when Native Americans brought food to Puritan settlers. No one really thinks about the idea of giving thanks in a Catholic context. Since we celebrate Thanksgiving every year, it is important for us as Catholics to recognize what and how we should celebrate.
What Thanksgiving Really Is
The pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving was in 1620, as our history classes tell us, but Catholics celebrate another Thanksgiving that was first offered two thousand years ago. “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word eucharista, meaning “thanksgiving,” and is our sacrifice of thanksgiving that we offer to God the Father for Jesus coming to save us from our sins. The holiday of Thanksgiving therefore carries special weight for us as Catholics, because it is a time when all the nation pauses to reflect on our many blessings.
Thanksgiving as a formal holiday was instituted by Abraham Lincoln to be on the fourth Thursday of every November, for the purpose of families gathering together to give thanks for their many blessings. How appropriate it is that we have this holiday! In a society that tells us that we constantly need to go out and buy more things, it is important that we have this reminder to pause and be thankful for what each one of us has. If you don’t have the job you want, be thankful you at least have an income. If you don’t have the house you want, be thankful you have a roof over your head in bad weather. If your siblings annoy you, be thankful you have siblings by whom to be annoyed. Those are just some of the many blessings we have, so it is appropriate for us to remember our obligation to give thanks to God on this holiday.
How to Keep Thanksgiving, Catholic Style
At this point you might be sweating, wondering if this crazy author is going to suggest that you engage in ridiculously complicated penances sans football. Don’t worry! Watch your football, eat your turkey, and drink your adult beverages. Thanksgiving doesn’t mean punishing yourself for the sake of God; God wants you to enjoy the good things that you have gained by His Providence (within reason, of course). Thanksgiving means appreciating the things you have already been given, being content with them, and trusting that God will provide for all future needs. It’s both an act of joy and of fidelity. So how do we honor Thanksgiving with thanksgiving, as Catholics?
First, make sure you find some time to pray with your family. If you can go to Mass that morning in the midst of all the dinner preparations, great! There’s no better way to show thanksgiving than by participating in the Eucharist. Don’t feel bad if you can’t make it to Mass; you can make up for it by offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God for everything He has given you with the family and friends gathering together for the meal. Disclaimer: This is not license to be that guy who makes the twenty-minute prayer of thanksgiving while everyone is salivating over the food. Simple prayers please God, and are less likely to get you uninvited from Thanksgiving next year!
Second, take some private time to think about all the good things God has done in your life over the course of this past year. What have you prayed for that God has granted you? How have you seen your faith life grow? Do you have new friends, or have existing friendships deepened? Everyone has something to be thankful for; maybe make a top-ten list, and thank God for each of those things. When you do something nice for someone, you like it when they say “thank you” to you. Imagine how much God, who does far greater things for us, is pleased when we say it to Him!
Lastly, enjoy the day! Use it as an opportunity to engage in rest. Put aside any work that doesn’t need to get done: household chores, professional tasks, and business communications are examples of some of those things that can wait. An email can always be sent later, but you don’t know the next time you’ll get to make some memories with your family. Delighting in the things that God has given you is a form of thanksgiving in itself, and what better time to do that than on Thanksgiving Day?
May God bless you all, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Vir’s heart has been on fire for the Church from day one, and he dreams of the day when Constantinople will be a city again. He has a competitive drive satiated by sports and board games, but is also just as happy to sit down and read a good book for hours on end.