2001-11-18 Thanksgiving Day is rather late in the year for a harvest festival...

November 18, 2001

Thanksgiving Day is rather late in the year for a harvest festival. The fields have been harvested many weeks past, which is why most countries have their festivals in October. We urban dwellers are a bit fuzzy about these things. The closest we may get to amber fields of grain is Gristedes. Frozen foods and air transport mean that we can eat nay kind of vegetable any time of year, and Chilean sea bass is not exotic in Manhattan anymore. Thanksgiving Day attests that earth's bounty is not to be taken for granted, and that we have been especially blessed in our nation with a freedom from want that is unique in history.

The day is one time when the Church obliges the bidding of the civil government for prayer. It is not a holy day of obligation, for such holy days celebration aspects of the mystery of redemption. The President asks all citizens to give thanks to God for all of our nation's blessings, first of which is the bread by which we live. It is ironic that the Puritan settlers in the Plymouth Colony are so much associated with a thanksgiving feast, because they were dogmatically opposed to ritual feasts, and they had rejected the Holy Eucharist which supernatural grace makes into the highest possible act of thanksgiving. We have been told often enough that "eucharist" is thanksgiving in Greek. But thanksgiving is almost a definition of civility, Puritan or Catholic. Parents begin to civilize their little ones when they get a gift: "What do you say?" And the answer "Thank you" starts the child on the paths of all good things. This is more than a lesson in etiquette. It is training in the art of an eternal grace: Saying thanks to the giver changes a passive receiver into an active associate of some sort. That is not putting it well, but it does help to explain how gracious thanksgiving can make people into good citizens, earthly and heavenly, by making them patriots and saints. The categories are not inseparable, but neither are they contradictory.

A nation that ignores its God loses its souls, they way any individual does. In time of war, a Day of Thanksgiving remembers the harvest fields, but also the battle fields, praying for the victory of justice, and thanking God for a civilization which we took too often for granted without saying "thank you" until it was attacked before our very eyes.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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