Thanksgiving dinner is the best of times. Thanksgiving dinner is the worst times.
For many, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is the meal they look forward to for months. The turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, it goes on and it's all good. For others, Thanksgiving dinner is the one time of the year they have to sit with all of their family members, listen to their unpopular or uncouth political positions.
The purpose of Thanksgiving, as you know, is not the meal or the conversation -- good or difficult as those may be -- it is to give thanks for the myriad ways God has blessed our lives. As Catholics, we believe Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Word, came into this world, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for us and our salvation. Therefore, our lives should be one of thanks, one of gratitude. Jesus opened the doors of Heaven for me. I need to thank Him for that.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: "Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.
As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (2637-2638)
In other words, giving thanks is our default disposition. It is what we do every time we go to Mass. It is what we do every time we pray. It is who we are and what we are called to do.
Thanksgiving in practice (just like Thanksgiving with your crazy relatives) is and can be quite difficult. How can we give thanks for suffering/pain/loss/sin/you name it. There is so much going on in the world for which we should not give thanks, right? In one way, no, of course not. We should never be grateful for someone else's or our own's suffering or evil. We should never wish or inflict suffering.
At the same time, in faith, with Christ, even the greatest sin or worst suffering can be an opportunity for grace, conversion, and new life in Christ. For this, we should be immensely grateful.
When I was a senior in college, I was at my darkest and deepest point of sin. In a six month period, Christ went from the center of my life to a blurred image on the fringes. During Lent, I went to Confession at the campus penance service solely because I had helped organize it and felt obliged. In that Confession, the Lord shown His merciful and loving face upon me. Though I regret all of the sin that led me to that point, I am grateful for the power of God's mercy and the opportunity to have experienced it so powerfully.
Aside from the moments of transcendent grace, a disposition of thanksgiving is vital in our following after Christ. In times of real doubt, sin, or frustration, a simple reflection upon how God is blessing you and your life can be the difference between frustration and despair. In the Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola, before delving into the struggles or sins of the day, he encourages us at the end of each day first to recognize God's presence and give thanks for God's blessings throughout. This helps us put our struggles in context. Yes, it can be hard, but God never abandons us.
In times of success, give thanks. In times of struggle, give thanks. In every time and place, give thanks. Thanksgiving is who you are and what you do.
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.