I was reading a Thanksgiving article by Father Leo Patalinghug. Now, Fr. Leo is an EXPERT when it comes to Thanksgiving. the reason is not that he is a historian. He’s a cook! He has his own website – Fr. Loe Feeds and has also written two cook books: Spicing Up Married Life and Grace Before Meals.
In his article, Fr. Leo wrote about how Thanksgiving Day is a unique part of the American spirit. It started when Governor William Bradford decided in 1621 to call for a three-day celebration of the fruits of the harvest. This was some in the shadow of several deadly years of lean crops when many settles perished. It seemed to echo Psalm 126, “Those who sowed in tears will then reap with joy.” That day, the pilgrims invited the Native-Americans to celebrate the harvest together. In sharing with their native brothers and sisters, it sounded like the governor was listening to the words of Jesus who, in Luke 10:25 posed the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Fr. Patalinghug comments that there are certainly some “Thanksgiving scrooges” who may try to remind us that the Thanksgiving Day proclamation by George Washington Nov. 26, 1789, was NOT a religious feast. It was a holiday to give thanks for the United States Constitution. Some would thus say that we shouldn’t make it a “religious holiday.” But even Washington’s act seems to have been a “religious” one. He was celebrating a document with a preamble that recognized a higher power that helped us to form “a more perfect union.” We referred to a country based on “Blessings (capital ‘B’) of Liberty.”
And we should all know that Thanksgiving, officially established by President Abraham Lincoln Oct. 3, 1863, was a “religiously inspired” proclamation. The roots of the word “religion” come from the Latin “relegare” meaning “to give up” or “to sacrifice.” Lincoln understood the needs of Americans to soften their hearts. He called to his citizens to (as he said) offer praise to a ”beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.“ The president wanted to remind all Americans of the many blessing of this unique experiment called the United States at a time when so much blood was “being sacrificed on the altar of freedom.” (See Lincoln’s letter to Mrs Bixby who lost five sons in the Civil War).
Years ago, I spent a semester abroad in Germany. I lived for six months with a family in Ziegelhausen (near Heidelberg). Near the end of my stay (the beginning of November) the family invited me to celebrate a going away party. When I arrived, there was the tremendous German riesling wine and beer from the local brewery. But The main course was a surprise. Right in the middle of the table was … a turkey. They even had cranberry sauce (that, I suspect, they acquired from the local US military commissary). They commented that Germans admired this “Thanksgiving” – a festival that juxtaposed church and state, religion and citizenship. It was so uniquely American.
And so we come here, in this Temple of the Lord, to celebrate being bless-ed. St. Augustine comments about Luke 11:27, where we hear of the woman who cried out.. ”Blessed is the womb that bore you.“ To this, Jesus responded. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” But even Mary, the womb that kept that Word of a God for nine months, still did not consider herself above or greater than the the Body of Christ. Augustine says that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ – as varied and diverse as we are. We are like Germans who recognize this and invite an American to celebrate at a table by serving Turkey instead of bratwurst. We are like native and non-natives who gathered around a table almost 400 years ago. We too gather around a table – the table of the Eucharist – the Greek word meaning … “Thanksgiving.”
Audio version of the homily is here: