One tends to feel rather patriotic as Thanksgiving Day approaches. It is, I think, the most American of holidays, in that religion, family, and material abundance are interwoven into the building of community and good cheer associated with the kickoff of the commercial Christmas season. We do these things well as Americans.
And then we always have G.K. Chesterton to recall for us the proper order of things. “The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America,” Chesterton quipped. “The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.”
Of course, we need not share Chesterton’s disdain for our dear Thanksgiving Day, even if we share his disdain for Puritanism. For Thanksgiving is actually and properly about the rendering of gratitude to Almighty God for all of His blessings upon us. “In all circumstances give thanks,” St. Paul wrote. This is precisely what we recall this Thursday: that, no matter what is happening in our lives, the proper posture of the creature before the Creator is the movement of the heart in gratitude.
We recall Chesterton again: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” There is a patriotic delight that our national feast is a day of thanksgiving. In a country marked by so much injustice – towards the unborn, the poor, marriage and the family, other nations – we have at least this little boast: we are still a nation that officially gives thanks to God annually for all His blessings.
Catholics are men and women of gratitude. Our very worship is “thanksgiving” as we offer the Eucharist. We don’t give thanks only one day of the year, but every day the perfect thanksgiving of Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross is offered to the Blessed Trinity for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. This is the truth of who we are. We don’t need a holiday to remind us to give thanks, but we gladly receive and participate in such a marvelous public festivity. In all circumstances, we render unto God the justice of our gratitude for everything.
It is only fitting to conclude our meditation on gratitude with more wisdom from the great Chesterton, who knew well how in all circumstances to give thanks:
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
Fr. Joseph Previtali