Thanksgiving 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, Happy Thanksgiving, blessings, and peace. It is good that we are assembled here together this morning. For the day ahead promises to be a busy one, and yet the day has been set aside for prayerful reflection. It is also intended to be a day long prayer for togetherness. Our households and our extended families and friends come to mind first and foremost, of course, but in coming together to celebrate this Mass we are also mindful of the faithful in Christ Jesus. The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant sound like arcane theological abstractions, and yet key to the Christian life is realizing over time that among the faithful there are no strangers. There are no foreigners. There are no rich or poor, no slave or free, no privileged elites or outcasts. In Our Father’s Kingdom, we are meant to be family to one another. To the extent we really can start to see this, and also start to treat one another like Brothers and Sisters in the faith, then we should be thankful. For most everything in this fallen world conspires to teach us otherwise. From an early age so much of what we see or hear tells us that the world at large is a cruel place, that the men and women outside of our immediate family and friends are our competitors, that someone else’s misfortune is necessary for me to get ahead in this dog-eat-dog world. The world teaches us that we are blessed only if and when good things happen to us and that any misfortune is an indication that God is turning away from us or, even worse, that God does not exist. The truth is very different. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Galatians: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” This fallen world is dead to St. Paul, and he no longer lives for it. Therefore, what the world had taught him ceases to be of any interest nor concern to him. The incessant tribalism, the dog-eat-dog competition, the belief that the world is intrinsically a Zero-sum game where one man must fall for another man to move ahead – all of those dark conceits have been washed away in the crucified blood of Our Lord. Even the primordial fear of death, and the desire to save one’s skin above all else, all of that is gone, too. St. Paul no longer lives for himself. He lives for Christ Jesus, the Incarnate God; for the faithful; and for those who may be brought into the communion of the faithful. He is thankful not because he is blessed with good tidings, or worldly success, or even momentary happiness. Rather, he is thankful because he is blessed by the Crucified Christ living in him. He is blessed because he is a new creature; a man reoriented away from sin in this world and toward eternal life in the Father’s Kingdom. Above all, he is blessed and thankful that the joy he finds in Christ Jesus may be the occasion for others to embrace this same joy. As he writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “All of this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

Our American Thanksgiving Holiday was the brainchild of Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and moral crusader in the Nineteenth Century most famous today for the child’s nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Clad in the black dress and veil of a lady in mourning through most of her adult life, Mrs. Hale never set aside in her mind the untimely loss of her husband. His death was her Cross, and she bore it with the dark solemnity, reserved mannerisms, and stiff upper lip so indicative of the Victorians. And yet she did not allow her mourning to be her excuse to leave the larger world for the safety of her parlor. She did not shy away from her responsibility first to God and then to her fellow man. Like St. Paul she suffered; but also like him, she realized that in her death to the world, and in her new life in Christ Jesus, she could be a blessing to untold men and women. Before the American Civil War, several States celebrated their own Thanksgiving in a manner that was peculiar to the political culture of those States. None of these Thanksgivings were celebrated on the same day, and none of them spoke to the ideal of national togetherness under the Providence of God Almighty. Mrs. Hale understood that for the United States to be a great nation she must be first a nation of good people, and for that to happen in reality as many Americans as possible must find their identity in our national unity and their personal salvation in their neighbor’s salvation. We are blessed and thankful not because we get something good, or find some modicum of happiness, at the expense of someone else’s. Instead, we are blessed and thankful because we have learned to put God and our neighbors above ourselves, even if in this lifetime that means that we suffer more than we would have if we had been more selfish or if our hearts had been more hardened. In living our lives in this way, our very souls tabernacles for the Lord, we are reoriented away from the here and the now and toward the eternal. To the extent this happens we are new creatures. Our eyes are opened. Our perspective changes. Mrs. Hale describes the blessed and the thankful as walking away without regret from whatever had so preoccupied them: “Nor need we power or splendor, wide hall or lordly dome; the good, the true, the tender – these form the wealth of home.”

For decades, American Presidents before Abraham Lincoln had ignored Mrs. Hale’s persistent call for a National Thanksgiving Holiday. They had written off her many letters on the topic as the missives of a chronic do-gooder in mourning. Abraham Lincoln pounced on the idea, for in the cauldron of the American Civil War he championed the virtue of national togetherness and mutual forgiveness. He was not a regular churchgoer, but he was a student of the Bible; and he knew that the blood being shed now to save the Union would be for naught without the grace that God alone may bestow. God’s grace may not be realized in good tidings. On the contrary, God’s grace may be most clear and abundant in the lives being lost on the battlefields. Lincoln wrote in a private letter on the issue of slavery: “If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” It is a blessing to be a servant of God and of His justice, no matter the costs to us in this lifetime, and to the extent we really embrace a servant’s life we should be thankful.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.  

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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