Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I have fond memories of large family gatherings centered around the traditional Thanksgiving meal with my favorite food: Grandma’s mashed potatoes and gravy. But I think there is a deeper reason that Thanksgiving has always been significant to me. I remember learning the traditional story about American Thanksgiving in elementary school: how the Pilgrims left their homeland out of a sense of divine vocation, how they encountered great disasters and almost perished, and how the Native Americans came to their rescue, teaching them how to grow corn with the help of fish as fertilizer for the rocky New England soil. The two parties, who had been divided by hostility and suspicion, came together in a great feast and were united in giving thanks to God.
People have criticized this traditional story from a number of angles. Did this first Thanksgiving ever really happen? Does this story ignore the crimes committed against Native Americans in our country’s history? Would it be better for us to tell our children a different story? These are valid questions, but I think that, to a certain extent, they miss the point. The traditional story of the Pilgrims and the Indians, whatever may be the historical reality behind it, serves as a kind of founding myth for our country: it serves to express a common vision of who we hope to be as Americans. In this vision, America is a place where various peoples can be united in the worship of God. Most of the founders of the country were not Catholic, some of them were even quite anti-Catholic, and yet they all believed that religion was essential to the success of any commonwealth. They probably would have agreed to the following statement: if we do not worship God and keep his commandments, America is doomed to fail.
So I think we would do well to cherish this traditional story, to tell it to our children, and to apply its teachings to our lives. Our well-being in life depends on cooperation with others who are different from us in a variety of ways. Without a common commitment to the worship of God and the keeping of His commandments, these differences will simply be too much for us to bear. Without God, our differences will tear us apart. The first act of worship is to thank God. And, of course, the greatest act of thanksgiving is found in the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist (which is a Greek word that literally means ‘thanksgiving’.) As we come to the end of another year, let us give thanks to God for all of his benefits, for the gifts of family and friendships and good health, but most of all, let us celebrate the Eucharist, the origin and summit of our life as a Church, and give thanks to the Father for the gift of eternal life in His Son Jesus Christ.
Br. Athanasius Thompson, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE