What Is It We Are Thankful For?

This post is reprinted from the Nov. 25 parish bulletin 

On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving Day, and this holiday reminds us that we have a need to give thanks. It’s fitting to ask the question, “To whom should we give thanks?” When people speak in public about the holiday we observe, it usually sounds as though they’re advocating a general sense of gratitude to some kind of nothingness. This is not how Thanksgiving started, however.

Thanksgiving was originally meant to be a day for Americans to thank God specifically. Religious language is sprinkled liberally throughout the proclamations of a one-time national day of thanksgiving by George Washington in 1789 and by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Washington mentioned “Providence,” “the great Lord and ruler of nations,” and “the Author of all the good that was that is or that will be.” Lincoln, as you will be able to read for yourself, spoke directly of “Almighty God” and “our beneficent Father.”

I thought it would be a good idea to reprint the proclamation by which President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the ravages of the Civil War, established the holiday we just celebrated. It is startling to read the words of a political leader who unabashedly speaks about God and his mercy, and also about “our national perverseness and disobedience.” Lincoln’s words remain valid for today. Let us join together, then, to offer God our thanks, our penitence, and our prayer for the suffering.

 Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Advent Is Coming

This Solemnity of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which always begins anew on the First Sunday of Advent. Advent begins with the Vigil Mass on Saturday, December 1, just as darkness settles over the land and the new day begins, according to the ancient Jewish reckoning of the day from sunset to sunset. The beginning of the Church year is determined by our need to have four Advent Sundays before December 25. Since Christmas can be on any one of the seven days of the week, there are years in which Christmas falls on a Monday and the fourth week of Advent is just one day long.  There are years in which Christmas falls on a Sunday and the fourth week of Advent is a full seven days long.  That’s when Advent is at its maximum length of 28 days.  This year, with Christmas coming as it does on a Tuesday, Advent is 23 days long. Get your Advent calendars adjusted, then, by opening two doors on the first day. Get out those Advent wreaths and buy new candles for them. But the best way to observe Advent is to be ready to let the season enter your hearts so you can use these weeks to resolve to listen more closely to God’s voice.


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