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. Being unfamiliar with the New World, they 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.
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? Do we give thanks for opportunities presented to us through which we can praise God?
This month, I have noticed many people on Facebook taking part in a challenge to identify things for which they are thankful. And while that's a nice exercise, what's next? Is it enough simply to write things 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?
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.