Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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The example of Thanksgiving Day, which falls on the feast day of St. Cecilia, can be lived all year. By Joseph Pronechen.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
The Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day Mass — an option in
the United States as the rest of the Church commemorates the Nov. 22 feast of
St. Cecilia — doesn’t mention the Mayflower. There are no pilgrims and natives
coming together over a turkey dinner in there, either. No apple cider. No
Instead, we hear a classic teaching on thankfulness straight
from the mouth of the Lord. It’s Luke 17:11-19 — the account of Jesus’ healing
of 10 lepers. After being cured, nine went their way and never looked back.
Only one returned to say “Thank You.” In fact, he went further than that. He
threw himself at the Great Physician’s feet and glorified God “in a loud
Remember Jesus’ response? “Stand up and go,” he told the
man. “Your faith has saved you.”
It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to state that, with
this special blessing, Christ was not recognizing that onetime act of the “lone
thanker” but, rather, his ongoing attitude. Here was a man — a Samaritan
foreigner, no less — who surely gave thanks to God always and everywhere.
We would do well to follow his example. Could there be a
better blessing to remind us 24/7, 365 days a year, than daily family life?
Grace before Thanksgiving dinner can provide a marvelous
initial inspiration to build on, says Norbertine Father Alfred McBride. The
popular author, educator and EWTN host points out that praying grace before
every family meal blesses the family as well as the food.
“The word grace — gratia in Latin — means thanks,” he says
before suggesting that the prayers be said “naturally and simply, sometimes
with the children leading.”
For holidays and other special occasions, “families can join
hands and each member tells a little story about what they want to thank Christ
for,” he adds. “Early childhood is a very good time” to establish such family
Just a few miles away from the Thanksgiving hotspot of
Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation, John and Heidi Bratton of North Falmouth,
Mass., offer thanks to God before every meal with their five youngsters and
teens. Each family member takes a turn leading these mealtime prayers.
In preparation for Thanksgiving Day itself, the family
begins Nov. 1 when Heidi places a bare tree or collection of dried twigs on the
table accompanied by a bowl of paper leaves. Each leaf bears the name
of a member of their extended family. Whoever leads the nightly dinner prayer
picks a leaf and begins an around-the-table thanksgiving for that family
member. After the prayer, the leaf is placed on a branch. By “T-Day,” the
once-bare branches are a blooming centerpiece.
“Many members of our extended family live far away,” says
Heidi. Those members are not closely familiar to the family. “So sometimes
there’s not much more to say than ‘Thank you, God, for So-and-So.’” But this is
enough, she says, to remind all present that “it’s not what you do but who you
are for which we are thankful.”
In Atlanta, the Flanigan family — Mike, Laurie and their six
children — have developed a number of customs to reinforce the idea that God is
worthy of gratitude no matter the circumstances of life at any given point.
“We don’t pass a church without making the Sign of the Cross
and saying ‘Thank You Jesus,’” says Laurie. And when the drive is done, as
they’re pulling into the driveway, everyone thanks the Lord for getting the
family back home safely.
Our Need to Thank
Of course, the world at large has its own attitude — and,
oftentimes, it’s not one of gratitude.
On his travels, Father McBride finds many young people
aren’t trained to say Thank You even when something has been done for them.
Instead they have what he calls “an entitlement outlook. Some are forgetful, he
adds, and some “don’t know how to thank.”
“We have to train our young people in the art of thanking,”
he says. “Thanksgiving is the way to overcome selfishness, to realize people
don’t have to give you anything. God didn’t have to make me, but he did. It’s
my responsibility to thank him for what he does.”
The priest is also quick to point out that God doesn’t
really need our thanks — but we really do need what we get by thanking him.
Inculcating the spirit and meaning of thanksgiving isn’t an
“The basic idea we have tried to instill through every
activity is simply that we, as parents, are thankful for each of our children
and for our family unit,” says Heidi Bratton. The kids know they are loved not
for what they achieve or produce but “simply for who they and we are — gifts
One of several ways they get this across: Every night they
sing an evening prayer and everyone blesses every other family member with a
cross on the forehead. Heidi explains the lesson: “It is another way of showing
‘I value you. I ask God to bless you. I am thankful for you.’”
“I thank the kids after every Mass at which they serve on
the altar,” adds Heidi. That leads to the ultimate thanksgiving — the
“Any time you go to Mass you’re giving thanks to God,”
Father McBride points out. “The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.”
“As children get older they learn Thanksgiving is not just a
Thursday in November, but every Sunday it’s a Catholic feast,” he says.
Every event, and even every need, can become “an offering of
thanksgiving,” the Catechism reminds us in No. 2638. “The letters of St. Paul
often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in
St. Paul, of course, urged the Church: “In all circumstances
give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1
That attitude of ongoing gratitude, come what may, made a
big difference when the Flanigans recently moved to Atlanta from their lifelong
home in Cincinnati.
“It was a huge
sacrifice” for some members of the family, says Laurie. It was those kids’
response that most surprised mom and dad. “They say, all the time, ‘We’re
thankful we’re here.’ They see God’s hand in the move and the many blessings”
that have come with it.
Stated another way: They make every day Thanksgiving Day.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
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