In gratitude for good all good things in our lives, including good preaching, I share with you Father Cecil’s homily from the Thanksgiving Day Mass this morning.
As most everyone knows, our Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated by English Pilgrims in October 1621. God knows they had more than enough reasons to be thankful. They had made it across the Atlantic crowded in a ship several sizes too small. They wanted to reach the English colony in Virginia, but poor planning and navigation brought them to land some 500 kilometers north of Virginia. It was December, they were alone and on their own with precious little food. Nearly half of their number didn’t survive that first frightful winter. When spring arrived the survivors set to work plowing and planting. Fortunately for them, they were blessed with an abundant harvest that autumn, and their leader, William Bradford, was prompted to announce a day of prayerful thanksgiving to God for the harvest. They thanked God with a religious service and then sat down to a meal.
Of the dozen and a half women aboard the Mayflower when it arrived at Plymouth, only four were still alive when they sat down for the first Thanksgiving meal.
The story of the Pilgrims and their colony in North America are part of the ancestry of all of us. The hardships, desperate struggles and setbacks which they experienced along the way of their search for religious freedom are part of the heritage of this country and have contributed to make its character what it is.
Fast forward about 250 years to 1863. The nation was in the midst of a terrible Civil War when Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order extending the celebration of Thanksgiving day to the whole country. In his proclamation he expressed his concern that Americans were in danger of forgetting that the blessings of food, land, family and freedom that they were enjoying were gifts of God.
These four particular blessings: food, land, family and freedom doubtless came from his reading of the Old Testament. They were the blessings for which the Hebrew people were most grateful. As much as they appreciated the gift of land, especially the Promised Land, the gift they were above all others most thankful for was their freedom, their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They celebrated a memorial feast each year which included a Passover meal, during which time stories were told which included important features of how the strong arm of the Lord worked through Moses to bring the Hebrews out ·of slavery in Egypt to freedom. And for this they thanked God. There are striking similarities between the occupation of the Promised
Land by the people of God and the occupation of the American West. The settlement of the West contributed much to the formation of the American people, and deserves to be appreciated and not denied or ignored.
My imagination led me to suspect that most of the postings were of student origin. The most frequent entries were female names, Gina being by far the largest. Male names came in a distant second with three names. After girls’ names, a variety of foods was most popular, followed by two each of pop and mom, various family members and friends in general; and finally one each of the following: Men’s Club Hockey and the Library. I realized I hadn’t seen God or Jesus anywhere, so I searched intently before I finally found him in tiny script on the left hand side of the easle. It read: God Empower Trump.
I realized that the library easel wasn’t a thoughtful sampler of student opinion, but it does say something. And if I can put a positive spin on it, I would suggest that it shows that Anselmians are by far more grateful for people in their lives than they are for things in their lives.
So far I have provided examples of several different reasons and ways people have given thanks: the Pilgrims, President Lincoln, and random Anselmians.
Now, as St. Paul once said, I would like to show you a most perfect way, the best way to be thankful. And at the same time suggest our salvation by Christ as the gift of God for which we should be most grateful.
The best way to show that we appreciate a gift is to use it well. This is never truer than in the Mass where the gift of our salvation is re-presented sacramentally on the altar to allow us to take part in it and share its benefits. We join ourselves to Christ at Mass to be offered with him to his heavenly Father. Jesus asked us to do this at the Last Supper. Do what I have done, Do it in my memory. There is nothing more grateful in God’s eyes than the complete and total offering of his Son, Jesus, and us with him. This is our greatest possible act or expression of thanksgiving.
Everything we have or are comes to us from God. It comes from his super abundant goodness and merciful love. Although other people may be the channels God uses to give us his gifts, and we must thank them as God’s intermediaries, yet God is their ultimate source.
Rightly do we pray with Psalm 101: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.”
May your every day be a true thanksgiving day!