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Thanksgiving Should Be a Verb


  Combining the Sacred and the Secular

 Giving Thanks for Simple Things

Sometimes it’s easier to think of all the bad things—bombings, murders, illness, misfortune—in the world than the good things. But we must realize that there are good things, even in difficult times, for which we can give thanks.

For example, Anne Frank, the young girl whose diary put a face on the Holocaust, demonstrated her ability to give thanks for the simplest of things: “I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.” Anne Frank was able to realize that, despite her own desperate situation and the fact that she could not venture out of the attic apartment, there were still things for which she could be thankful.

Now think back to the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims endured death, disease and numerous hardships in their quest for freedom. The Pilgrims, being unfamiliar with the New World, knew little of how to grow the crops for food that they so desperately needed. The Native Americans showed them how to grow and harvest the necessary crops. The Pilgrims, given what they had been through, could have taken that knowledge and run with it, without giving a second thought to the graciousness of the Native Americans. Instead, the Pilgrims invited them to share in their bounty as a way of expressing their thanks.

And so as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, let us reflect on our reasons to be thankful and resolve ourselves to give thanks—both in word and in action—even after our Thanksgiving celebration is over.

Combining the Sacred and the Secular

The Thanksgiving holiday, although particularly American in its celebration, contains many counterparts throughout the world and religious spectrum. In Judaism, for example, Sukkot is the fall celebration of thanksgiving to God for the bounty of the earth.

For Catholics, the act of thanksgiving is at the very heart of our celebrations and beliefs. Every time we share in the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving, gratitude), we thank God for the gifts God has given us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it well: “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’”(#1360).

Every time we gather for Eucharist, we celebrate the promise of the living Christ through Jesus’ resurrection, but how many of us live out that promise throughout the year? How many of us take the thanksgiving of the Eucharist and make it active in our lives outside Mass?

Mother Teresa’s recent death was a sorrowful occasion for the world over. We mourn for our loss and praise her for her work. But the irony is that Mother Teresa considered herself blessed to be able to minister to the poor. She gave thanks for the opportunity God had given her to work with the orphaned, the crippled, the sick, the dying and all those who were unwanted or unloved. To Mother Teresa, they were Jesus in disguise.

She once said, “You have to be holy in your position as you are, and I have to be holy in the position that God has put me. So it is nothing extraordinary to be holy. Holiness is not the luxury of the few. Holiness is a simple duty for you and for me. We have been created for that.”

Do we give thanks for opportunities presented to us through which we can praise God? Do we recognize the “Mother Teresas” of our own communities and give them our thanks and support?

Giving Thanks for Simple Things

Author Sarah Ban Breathnach has tapped into the importance of being grateful for things in your life. Her book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy is a 500-page meditation book which helps women find fulfillment by appreciating what they already have. The book is accompanied by the Simple Abundance journal, which calls for the owner to list things daily for which he or she is grateful.

The fact that the book has been on The New York Times best-seller list for 76 weeks (at the time of this writing), with 2.2 million copies in print, says something about our human need to give thanks.

But once we write down what we’re grateful for that day, what’s the next step? Is it enough simply to write things every day for a year so that we can go back later and read them? Or is it better to take those things as a starting point for action?

For example, perhaps you are thankful for being surrounded by family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, sharing a wonderful meal. But what about all those who may not have family with whom to celebrate, or will have nothing close to the meal you will enjoy on this holiday? Is there some way in which you could express your gratitude through sharing your plenty with someone who’s alone or down and out?

The “Blessing in Thanksgiving for the Harvest,” contained in the Book of Blessings, further reminds us “...to maintain and live in an attitude of gratitude to God. Therefore, let us now bless the Lord, who has once again bestowed on us the fruits of the earth. Abel offered his firstfruits to God; let us also learn to share our blessings for the good of those in need, so that we may be true children of the Father, who bestows his gifts for the benefit of all the peoples of the earth.”

So as we gather around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, may we be inspired to remember that truly giving thanks is more than something we say. It’s something we do. —S.H.B.

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