Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 6, 2008
Is Thanksgiving just another secular feast?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Has Thanksgiving been reduced to just another reason for eating to excess?
I believe that Thanksgiving is really the most religious of our secular feasts and the most important. And maybe, even the best kept.
We have a variety of special days to thank people such as Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. We honour others on birthdays, on graduations, on weddings, on anniversaries. We hold special events and give medals to thank our heroes: those who have saved the lives of others, those who volunteer to take care of those in need.
So who better to have a special day to thank than the Creator and giver of life? Isn’t it wonderful, then, to have Thanksgiving Day programmed into our busy schedules so that we can take the day off from work to celebrate God’s generosity?
Gratitude is a sign of maturity in the person. Little children expect everything from others and rightly so. They may be taught to thank but they don’t really fully appreciate what they receive. Adults who constantly demand their wants be fulfilled live in a “gimme” state and are like children. Our natural response to these individuals is “grow up.”
Scripture frequently invites us to gratitude. The Psalms do so over and over. Jesus’ life and words are a thanksgiving to the Father. Before he heals the sick, he thanks the Father for hearing his prayer. His life of obedience and death on the cross are a thanksgiving.
Paul frequently expresses gratitude for the gift of Christ to humanity and for God’s choice of him as an apostle. He thanks the churches for their faithfulness to Christ’s message which he has preached among them.
The Passover meal was, for the Hebrews, a thanksgiving meal because it was a remembering of God’s activity in their lives and an expression of gratitude for God’s goodness to them. Jesus chose a Jewish Passover meal to give us the Eucharist but Jesus gave that Passover meal a special meaning.
Jesus’ thanksgiving was not only for what God had done for the Jews. It was a thanksgiving for what he himself had been able to do through his earthly life and would do through his suffering, death and resurrection.
The bread and wine were no longer simply symbolic offerings to God. They were the thanksgiving Jesus was offering to his Father for his saving mission. These offerings were to be repeated in memory of him by Jesus’ followers who were to join with Christ in a continuing act of gratitude to God.
Scripture frequently invites us to gratitude. The Psalms do so over and over.
The most basic term for the liturgical celebration of the Mass is “Eucharist” which means “thanksgiving.” By our celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus’ thanksgiving becomes our own and we participate with him in the gift of himself to the Father and to us. We are, thereby, empowered to spread Jesus’ gratitude and become Jesus to the world.
Throughout the Eucharistic liturgy, we express our gratitude to God. In the Preface, we proclaim that it is right to give God thanks and praise. We end the liturgy with “Thanks be to God.” Gratitude is something that flows naturally from the heart when we perceive all that we have as gift.
Ancient cultures and religions celebrated harvest thanksgivings with food and rejoicing. Jesus, too, is shown frequently in the Gospels as partaking of food with others. What better way to share God’s goodness than a meal with family and friends at Thanksgiving.
But why consider Thanksgiving as the only appropriate day to express our gratitude? Gratitude should be a state of mind at every moment of our lives. Paul tells us that he constantly thanks God and we see him frequently thanking his churches.
First, we need to develop an awareness of the abundance of God’s gifts. Then we need to express that thanksgiving in word and action by how we live and relate to others each day.
We need to ask ourselves whether we are becoming more grateful and joyful persons. If we were able to replay our thoughts and our prayers, of what would they consist? Would they be praise and thanksgiving or negativity and complaining?
This Thanksgiving Day, count your blessings and express your thankfulness to God. Gratitude is at the heart of Christianity and of our relationship to God and others.
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