On Thanksgiving, Americans give thanks for all of the blessings in their lives during the past year. But do many — do we — forget to give thanks regularly?
The Thanksgiving Day Mass Gospel (Luke 17:11-19) reminds us where our blessings come from and why we should give thanks to God: Ten lepers meet Jesus on his journey. He cures all 10, but only one returns, "glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. … Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’"
Do we live each day like the one returnee? We shouldn’t be part of the "nine" crowd, as St. Paul reminds us — and he reminded the Thessalonians: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats Paul’s words as it teaches about the "Prayer of Thanksgiving" (2638), and it adds Paul’s instructions to the Colossians: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2).
That’s exactly what the first people who established the first colony in the New World did upon coming ashore. These faithful — who were Catholics — didn’t land on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. They came ashore and gave thanks 56 years before the pilgrims did in New England.
These Catholics were the Spaniards, who stepped ashore in Florida on Sept. 8, 1565 — Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, captain general of the Indies Fleet, and 1,200 colonists and soldiers who came with him to found St. Augustine, Fla.
The first person who came ashore was Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, the fleet chaplain. He later described what happened next:
"I took a cross and went to meet him [the general], singing the hymn Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise You God)," the priest recorded. "The general, followed by all … marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done."
Next, they celebrated a Mass of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — her feast day was Sept. 8 then, as it is today — in thanksgiving for arriving safely. The native Timucua Indians again watched intently.
Following the Mass, the Spaniards and Native Americans ate together, according to original accounts written by the chaplain and Gonzalo Solis de Meras, the brother-in-law of Menendez.
Based on the original accounts, Michael Gannon, history professor emeritus at the University of Florida and an expert state historian and author, has officially noted this was the first Thanksgiving feast — and how it began with a Mass of thanksgiving.
This thanksgiving event also marked the beginning of the first Catholic parish in what would become the United States.
In a way, they were anticipating what the Catechism would remind all of us centuries later: "Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is" (2637).
So Mass is an excellent way to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day and every day. But don’t stop there.
As Deuteronomy 26:11 reminds us, "Celebrate with all these good things which the Lord, your God, has given you."
Father Bill Quinlivan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Tonawanda, N.Y., says that, especially in this Year of Faith, Catholics should be constantly thankful that our faith tradition has a clear identity.
"We’re thankful people because of the Eucharist, and we have it every day," says Father Quinlivan, who is also a singer-songwriter (FrBillSings.com); his new Christmas album is Back to Bethlehem.
"People should be thankful for the opportunity they have to celebrate the Mass and receive the Eucharist," he says. This thanksgiving "is not a one-day feast of gorging, but a year-round continual feeding. So we need (always) to be people of thanks."
In a world that has lost so much faith, says Sister Anne Sophie Meaney, founder of the Society of the Body of Christ (SocietyoftheBodyofChrist.com), the Year of Faith is something to be particularly thankful for.
"We lost (as a society) many of our values and morals and (believers) embracing the true teachings of the Catholic Church," she says, "so it’s a real call and a reminder to be thankful to God for all the things we have and all the things we lost and need to embrace again."
Sister Anne Sophie and the society are champions of the culture of life in greater Corpus Christi, Texas, helping the children in the womb, as well as the elderly, the sick and the dying.
Sarah Swafford, a wife and mother of three, age 16 months to 5, and a popular Catholic speaker on emotional virtue (SarahSwafford.com) strives to live an attitude of thanksgiving in all situations.
"Say: ‘Thank you for all the gifts of being in this beautiful Church and for her wisdom,’" suggests Swafford.
"One of the first things I’ve learned more than anything from tragedies in our life is to turn every day into a gift, to not take anything for granted."
Swafford’s spiritual director from the Apostles of the Interior Life notes that negative thoughts thwart people from seeing their blessings, so the Atchison, Kan., Catholic mom works to recognize blessings no matter what. Her advice: "When the dinner is burning, and the kids are pulling at your feet, don’t complain, but stop and say, ‘Thank you, God, for my kids and for the food.’"
Even when it involves small, mundane things, "Just step back, know you’re so blessed, and say, ‘Thank you, God,’" Swafford says.
All these counsels correspond with what the Catechism states (in 2688): "As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it."
That includes difficult times like many Americans experienced recently in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when millions have suffered from the devastation, lost homes and the lack of modern conveniences.
In the midst of suffering and everything else, we must remember that God is there — no matter what. Sister Anne Sophie asks, "Do we say, ‘Thank you, God, for this blessed time and most important time to be with you and have a conversation with you from my heart to yours’?"
Adds Sister Anne Sophie: "The greatest thing to be thankful for is we can always come back to God, and he always forgives — and his mercy is always for us. He loves us with his unconditional love."
An important aspect of being thankful, therefore, relates to Christian joy.
Explains Father Quinlivan: "Part of what we’re called to live is joy, because the Lord is with us. Jesus had to be a very joyful person for people to follow him from town to town. Joy and thanks are much related."
Swafford agrees. She quotes media-savvy evangelizer Father Robert Barron, who said, "The greatest sign of faith is when you have joy."
"Why do people love the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas?" Swafford continues. "It’s the joy. I want to share in the joy. And if we share joy, that’s the witness of Christ. Joy points us toward Christ." She works to share that joy with her husband and children and in front of audiences of teens and young adults when giving talks.
Every day of the year, Swafford says, we should "be thankful to have Christ as part of our life."
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.