Thanksgiving Day: We are Still One Nation – Under God
This week the people of the United States of America struggle to find a way through the trauma we are experiencing in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Too many self-appointed “experts” seem all too eager to tell us what divides us. However, even in the midst of this National trauma, we will pause to do what we always do on this Thursday in November, give thanks to God.
The celebration of Thanksgiving brings us together, as one Nation under God.
For most honest Americans, no matter what their professed religious confession, or purported lack of such a profession, we really know that we are directing this thanks to Some-One.
We give thanks to the God who our founders recognized, even if they did so in differing ways. This God alone can lead our Nation toward and forward. This God alone can secure once again the blessings of liberty.
This is the God who invites us to turn to Him.
In the rich tapestry of our diversity, on Thanksgiving Day we again affirm our unity in those fundamental values which inform and ground the American experiment in ordered liberty. They were called self evident truths in the Declaration of Independence. Those truths – and the Rights which are founded upon them – come from God.
At the request of Congress, George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789. The words of that proclamation cry out for our response today:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and-Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.
That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
The sincere sentiments expressed by this extraordinary leader, George Washington, should inform our response to all of the challenges we face today in the United States of America. We are still one Nation under God.
They should also inspire us to pray for great leaders to emerge in this our great hour of need. Leaders who can help us see this as an hour of opportunity and an invitation to reaffirm our reliance on God.
Some Catholic Christians in America will participate in the Liturgy on Thanksgiving Day. They will hear the Gospel chosen by the Catholic Bishops of the United States for this National holiday. It is an excerpt taken from St. Luke (Luke 17:11-19) and tells the story of the ten lepers who were miraculously healed by Jesus during his journey to Jerusalem. However, only one came back to give thanks.
The account of these lepers invites us to examine ourselves. Are we that one? Do we return to give thanks to the Lord? In the words of the Apostle Paul we are reminded to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
It is this invitation to give thanks which will gather us as families, throughout the United States, around the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day. We will tell stories of our past and toast the hopes for our future.
Although a “secular” holiday, the celebration of Thanksgiving is profoundly religious at its core. So are we. So is this Nation. In the midst of the struggles we face in the United States of America, we really do need to stop and give thanks! We are still a truly blessed people.
Our Nation is at a crossroads. We have been at many before in or brief history. We should use this National Holiday as a time to reaffirm our reliance upon God – and our need for His Mercy and intervention.
As Christians in America, we have a special obligation to rise to the moment and help others.
We should not be numbered among those who simply curse the darkness. We must become those who light the light. That is because we know the One who is the Source of that light.
We should be a people of thanksgiving and a people of joy, throughout the whole year.
Christian joy is not rooted in the circumstances and struggles of our daily lives. It also need not be robbed from us by those circumstances.
Sometimes the travails we experience are the bad fruit of the disorder and brokenness caused by sin, our wrong choices. However, even then, they need not rob us of Gospel Joy. The word Gospel means Good News!
The Goodness of the News we proclaim to the world does not change. And we are to proclaim that Good news in both word and lifestyle. Our circumstances simply present us with an invitation as to how we will respond to them.
Living faith, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us the means and the resources we need to respond in gratitude.
Christian Joy finds its root in the relationship we now have in and through Jesus Christ, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. That relationship not only survives struggle, it thrives in struggle. That is, if we have such living faith.
We can learn to always rejoice – because the Lord is always near.
Christians are invited to imitate the Savior whom we follow; to become people who choose to live our lives for others. When we give thanks and cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude for all of the blessings which God has given to us, we are filled with grace, and we learn to love.
Today the Church calls her faithful sons and daughters to give thanks in her Liturgy. St. Teresa was fond of saying “We will not learn how to love if we are not grateful.”
The Readings for the Catholic Liturgy on Thanksgiving Day call us to gratitude. They remind is that Jesus, in His Sacred humanity, shows us how to live a life of gratitude. And through the complete gift of Himself – makes it possible.
Saint John Paul II, in a message he gave on July 29, 1987, reminds us:
In the truest sense we can say that the prayer of the Lord and his entire earthly existence become a revelation of the fundamental truth: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17). Thanksgiving is the source of all blessings from on high. ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God’ is (the) invitation the Church places at the center of the Eucharistic liturgy.
Cultivating a disposition of gratitude, becoming a people of thanksgiving, and then living our lives in love for others, is the path to living our earthly lives to the full. It also prepares us for eternity.
In the prayer of the priest in the Preface of the Mass for Thanksgiving Day in the United States we hear:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. We offer you, Father, this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for the gifts you have granted us. Help us to recognize them as the benefits we have received from you through no merit of our own (Prayer over the Gifts)
Let us make this prayer our own today.
Happy Thanksgiving to my readers, may it be a day for love and gratitude. No matter how difficult the challenges we face as a Nation, we have much to be grateful for. As we give thanks, we will find the strength we need to love even more fully.
As we give thanks, we will discover how to be faithful to our call to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate, in an age hungering for the fullness of God’s love.
Christians are invited to take the seed which lies at the heart of this Thanksgiving Day and plant it in the field of the world; so that it can bear the fruit which it points toward.
We are called to give thanks and we are called to love with the very Love of God in which all human love is revealed and through which all human love is perfected.
Thanksgiving Day reveals that there really is no separation between the secular and the spiritual. After all, God is the Creator of all and the Author of life. He is also the source of all that is good – whether He is acknowledged to be so or not.
As the beloved disciple John said “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” (1 John 1:4-7)
We will love today. We will reach out to one another – and to the less fortunate – today. When we choose to love, we participate in the love of God. This is true for even those who do not – yet – acknowledge Him.
We will give thanks today, for all the great gifts we have received. As we do, we will draw His presence more deeply into our daily life together. Love and gratitude are the keys to unlock the deeper meaning of life and the goodness of this day.
The smell of turkey will soon fill homes around this beautiful Nation. Tables will be set for the Feast. And what a wonderful Feast it is – this unique American celebration called Thanksgiving.
It is an extraordinary tradition. An entire Nation, in the beauty of all of its rich diversity and pluralism, pauses as one – to love and to give thanks for all of our blessings and our bounty.
We gather to express our gratitude for our health, our happiness and our life together.
Around tables throughout America, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will gather with mothers and fathers, Grandpas and Grandmas, extended family, neighbors and friends to thank God and one another.
And then, we feast; not only on the food, but even more importantly, on the gift of the love which informs all family relationships and true friendships, the real source of lasting joy, the love of the God who gave us life and liberty.
On one of the panels at the Jefferson memorial in Washington, DC, we read these words from another American President: “ God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
It is time to re-secure those liberties by reaffirming the One who is their source and their guarantee.
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