A Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and many thanks for beginning your holiday with Mass this morning. You are among the faithful few who celebrate a genuine Thanksgiving as did America’s founding pilgrims. They, and President’s Washington and Lincoln after them, established Thanksgiving as a day of worship and sacred gratitude to God; we have allowed it to become merely a day of shopping. Even “black Friday” is meaningless because most stores now open at 6pm today, and I hear Macy’s is open all day. How sad to spend this day not with God and family but in the rat race of a shopping mall.
The Last Day
Today’s Scriptures speak of the end times, as we are in the last few days of the liturgical year. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand,” warned Jesus. In the book of the Apocalypse, St. John foresees this desolation of the earthly City: “as a great millstone is cast into the sea, with such force will the great city be thrown down… your merchants were the great ones of the world, and all nations were led astray by your magic…” Merchants and the markets they create in us afford only superficial, and temporal, satisfaction. Their religion of materialism seems like magic to us: buy my product, wear my fashion, own my entertainment, and you will be happy. Their “happiness” lasts only for a moment, and then we need more, and the merchants are ever-ready to sell us an unlimited array of their products.
I must keep my tradition of reading part of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Day address, given at a time of national collapse. And yet, the President found abundant reasons to thank God:
“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… [from the] ever watchful providence of Almighty God…. 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.…I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …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 … that they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation….”
Abraham Lincoln was not Catholic, and not even explicitly Christian, but he knew whom to thank. He knew that prosperity and national security comes not from the Government or any human agency, but from “the hand of the Almighty.” Despite our “national perverseness and disobedience,” Lincoln asserted, God had been merciful to us. What we need today is a president who will ascribe our national achievements to God, and call us to repentance for our national perverseness. In some ways, our nation is in greater peril now than during the Civil War. A greater war is simmering just beneath the surface; our uneasy peace will inevitably break out into open war if we continue mocking the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” This “national perverseness” does not begin in Hollywood or Washington or Wall Street. It begins in our neighborhoods, on Main Street, when the ordinary citizen forgets to thank God; when we spend Thanksgiving Day congratulating ourselves rather than thanking God; at the mall rather than with our families.
America’s weakness—our practical atheism—begins with each of our personal decisions, but so does America’s greatness—her open profession of faith in God. Our founding pilgrims, our first President, and our greatest president, all turned to God at the end of the day, and the end of the year. And so have you, because you have begun your Thanksgiving with the supreme act of Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. People like you are America’s best hope. May you enjoy the blessings of peace and joy with family and friends today, granted to those who put God first, thanking Him with grateful hearts.