My mother loved Thanksgiving. She always said it was her favorite holiday. Although it was an enormous amount of work for her – I don’t know how she did it all those years – she never seemed to mind it. The Thanksgiving meal was always amazing, but I think it was just being surrounded by family that was the key to her joy and motivation!
Although my own Thanksgiving table has grown smaller with the passage of time, I continue to observe it each year with all the traditions (and Mom’s recipes!) that accompany this great American holiday.
I love Thanksgiving, too! I love it because we set aside this annual day of celebration simply to be grateful – grateful first and most importantly to our loving God who created and sustains us with countless blessings every day; grateful to our Catholic Church which makes God’s word and Eucharistic presence real in our lives; grateful to all the people who surround us with love each day: families, friends, neighbors; grateful to our country for preserving and safeguarding our freedoms, especially our religious freedoms; grateful to those who spend their lives in service to us, so many of whom we may never meet but without whom we would not get through most days. The list seems endless when you stop to think about it. And I guess that’s the point – we need to “stop and think about it;” we need to realize that we have so much to be grateful for and one day of “thanksgiving” is not now nor will it ever be enough.
Gratitude – true gratitude – accomplishes many things. St. Vincent de Paul taught his religious communities that gratitude was the most important virtue. When it is felt, when it is experienced, when it is shown and shared gratitude leads us to humility. There is an essential relationship between these two virtues.
Gratitude arises because and when something is freely given, not “owed” or “deserved” but freely given. And when that gift – however large or small – is accepted in humility, a relationship between the giver and the receiver of the gift is born because of the gift
“Thanksgiving” recognizes and lifts up that relationship. Before God, everything in life is a gift and a grace. Before God, every gift in life moves us to be grateful. But there is more.
It is not enough to simply “feel” this gratitude, although it is an essential first step. Gratitude should move us to share what we have, what we are. “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift (1 Peter 4: 10).” Gratitude without sharing, without its own “giving” is incomplete.
These are some things to keep in mind as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, whether our tables are large or small. Yes, Thanksgiving is only one day – but we have the rest of the year to show and share the real gratitude it represents with others.