A century before Christ was born, the Roman statesman and orator Cicero (106-43 BC) wrote, “There is nothing that I can esteem more highly than appearing or being grateful.  For this one virtue is not only the greatest but is also the parent of all virtues.”

I remember reading its translation in Latin class a long time ago, and it has remained with me all these years.

Gratitude and thanksgiving are certainly admirable human qualities and the source of many social graces.  That we Americans devote a whole day to lift them up and celebrate them is equally admirable.  The fourth Thursday in November is the day we traditionally devote to giving thanks as a nation, dating back to the early 19th century.  

Almost 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy wrote in his 1963 Thanksgiving Proclamation, “Our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving.  On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”

Those sentiments make it clear why gratitude and thanksgiving have endured in our nation’s memory since the days of its first settlement.  “Gratitude” is a feeling, an emotion that originates in a full heart that realizes and recognizes all the blessings God has given.

“Thanksgiving,” often considered synonymous, takes gratitude a step further.  Thanksgiving is an action – it’s what we “do” with our gratitude.  To be grateful, to express thanksgiving gives birth to so many other emotions, dispositions and virtues: humility; patience; kindness, charity and many more good things we show to and do for one another in response to what has been shown to and done for us by the Almighty.

In our American experience, “Thanksgiving” brings us to a table where a feast of wonderful foods await. In our Catholic experience, thanksgiving also brings us to a table, the Eucharistic table where the greatest of all foods are given to us, the precious Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  When we share the Eucharist, we find the truest “parent of all virtues.”

No one can deny that this past year has been uniquely difficult, even painful for us.  I am quite sure that the COVID pandemic has been an unwelcome guest at our tables, among our families, in our homes and, yes, even in our churches, introducing sacrifices and hardships we could never have imagined this time last year. That is why we perhaps have an even greater set of reasons to consider the blessings for which we are thankful.  Our Thanksgiving celebrations may look a little different this year but the gratitude that we owe God, our Creator, remains undiminished.  Let’s express it whenever, however we can.

Have a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving with and for those you love most.  God bless you.