A priest friend told me that the parish secretary had incorrectly typed on the weekly calendar in the parish Sunday bulletin for the last Thursday in November, THANKSLIVING Day, instead of THANKSGIVING Day. What a wonderful typo I thought. THANKSLIVING. Live life with gratitude. Gratitude to God for His blessings and gratitude to others for their presence in our lives. Not just one day in November to give thanks but living thankfully each day. Consider the difference THANKSLIVING could realize in our nation, our communities, our families, our places of employment and even our church.
The last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day, is a national holiday whose origin can be traced to a religious people who in the 17th century in Plymouth, Massachusetts gathered in celebration with their community and their neighbors so that they might give thanks to God for the blessings they had experienced from the time of their arrival in the New England colony. President Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday in 1863 just as the country was emerging from the ravages of the Civil War. His thinking was that a day to give God thanks would help to heal the wounds of the nation.
Gratitude is a response to the presence of God. Gratitude is a prayer which rises in the heart and is directed to God. To thank God is to recognize that God is our help; that God is our safety and shield; that God is the source of our peace and that God deserves our thanks for His blessings bestowed on us.
The people who organized the first Thanksgiving came to this country in search of the freedoms to practice their faith and to live their lives without oppression from political powers. Coming to America has been going on ever since. This has been the proud history of our nation. It has made America great among the nations of the world and it continues right here in South Jersey and throughout the United States. Some still come for religious freedom. Some are our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of our Catholic Church. Some have proper immigration papers, others do not. All are children of God, the majority of whom work hard, pay taxes and raise their children to be contributing members of our society. Some are frightened by the angry rhetoric and threats against immigrants that have recently been heard in public discourse.
When we focus on God with grateful hearts, we become aware of one another, our common humanity, our inter-dependence and our need for one another. Giving thanks to God has a social dimension. We share with those who have less. Sharing is an expression of gratitude to God who does not want people hungry, suffering or hurting.
There are many wonderful examples in our parishes of reaching out to the less fortunate. At Thanksgiving time those efforts increase so that a festive meal on Thanksgiving Day can be enjoyed by all. A consequence of charity is that we see that the poor are not to be feared. They are neither lazy nor ungrateful. They are in need and by responding to their need, according to our means, we are expressing our gratitude to God.
Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s oldest and finest traditions. It brings us together in a common celebration. It is a time for renewal and for unity. Its message is needed as much now as in 1863. Coincidentally, the Jubilee Year of Mercy has concluded the same week as Thanksgiving. I have been very pleased to see the various approaches our parishes, schools, religious education programs and ministries undertook to understand mercy and put it into practice. It is essential that we disciples of Jesus Christ lead lives dedicated to compassion for the needy, the sick, the imprisoned, the dead, our fellow sinners, those suffering spiritually and even our planet as a whole. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy has taught us about THANKSLIVING to “Be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.”