As the leaves fall and the days shorten, we may find ourselves more apt to be in the doldrums than we would like. The freedom of summer is long gone. The end of Daylight Savings Time forces us to endure the sad fact that it’s dark out when we wake up for work, and dark already again when we get out of work. It’s understandable if we have trouble finding things to be thankful for during this time of year.
We start getting into a bit of a rut as we hunker down in our homes because of the colder weather. On top of that, many Catholics are feeling deflated, and just mentally exhausted, following a new round of scandals that began with the revelations surrounding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. But despite all these varying factors, we in the United States find ourselves approaching some form of respite from all these concerns.
Believe it or not, I’m referring to something we find outside of the Catholic sphere, and that’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day that we find ourselves truly counting our blessings, and it’s a day where things start to feel a little bit brighter despite the constant overcast skies, both figuratively and literally. But it’s also a day that I thank God that I am united to him through his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Set Aside Earthly Cares
If you go to a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy, you’ll hear a wonderful prayer chanted during “The Great Entrance”, which is the beginning of what those in the Latin Rite will call the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The prayer, called the Cherubic Hymn, is said by the entire congregation:
“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim, and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares.”
The bolded part is sometimes repeated, really driving home the point that we put aside all other things that may bother us as we prepare to receive our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Now this isn’t to say that we are rejecting the world or material things as the Gnostics did, but that we set aside the cares that are mentioned in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:14). When the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, this short hymn comes to mind as well, and I think what the hymn calls us to do can be applied to this specific time of the year.
Many of us have the day off of work on Thanksgiving. We’re able to sleep in a bit, experience a Saturday in the middle of the week, and really start reflecting on things we wouldn’t be focusing on in the midst of the regular work week. I love being able to have the chance to start the day off with going to Holy Mass. It’s not very often that the opportunity arises to go to Mass on a Thursday morning, so it’s a wonderful chance to take advantage of this time.
Tomorrow Can Worry About Itself
On this federal holiday, we’re encouraged to give thanks for all the positive things that have happened in our lives. But who are we directing that thanks to? Our peers? The one person we absolutely must direct our thanks to is God. We take this day to set aside the things that might be choking up our thoughts. We put aside the things that may be clouding our minds, not allowing us to see the great things that God has done for us in our lives.
When we put aside all the things that aren’t really conducive to a thankful attitude toward God our father, other aspects of our life become clearer as well. Being thankful helps us to not be as worrisome or anxious about things that are out of our control. If we’re thankful for God’s blessings upon us, and we dwell on that, realizing that we trust in our Lord’s ability to provide for us, then that autumn time stupor in which we sometimes find ourselves starts to vanish. Recall back to our Lord’s words in the Gospel of Matthew, where he tells us as Christians to stop worrying about certain things:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …
“For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:25-26, 32-34).
Thankful Every Day
Thanksgiving is a day when we can “set aside all earthly cares”. We can focus on what great things our Lord has done for us. That anxiety we feel is suspended, as we’re not thinking about tomorrow or the next day. We’re focusing on the delightful time we’re having visiting with family, or the beautifully prepared food that we have received only by God’s grace through his bounty. When this becomes our focus, we don’t need to worry about the things our Lord mentions above.
Of course, we need to be sure that we work for the well-being of ourselves and those entrusted to our care, but by placing our trust in God, first and foremost, we find our anxiety start to drift away more and more. This is something I must work at every day myself, but that’s part of every Christian’s journey to trust more in God. It just so happens that this holiday that all Americans celebrate gives us the opportunity to do so.
As a Catholic, probably the most interesting thing about Thanksgiving is the Eucharistic connection. It’s literally in the name itself, with the Greek word “eucharistia” literally meaning “giving of thanks, thanksgiving”. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:
“It is called Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification” (CCC 1328).
It’s easy to feel let down and depressed in the wake of all the scandals currently afflicting the Church, but when we focus on the Eucharist, remembering that it is Jesus who gives us life, we can lift up our hearts to our Lord in thanksgiving for allowing us to come to know him through the Catholic Church which he established. Many Catholics are being asked by their family, friends and co-workers why they remain Catholic in the face of everything happening. As many others have stated before, it’s not men that we put our faith in, but in Jesus Christ. If we believe the things he said in Sacred Scripture, and if we believe what has been passed down directly by his apostles through Sacred Tradition, that the Catholic Church is of divine origin, then how can we reject it? How can we reject the Bride without rejecting the Bridegroom? St. Joan of Arc put it very succinctly:
“About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter” (CCC 795).
Bring the Good News to Loved Ones
The Church is one with Christ, so to say that we’re leaving the Church because some men did not live up to the standards Christ gave us is ridiculous. That may appear blunt, but we have to consider what we would be leaving if we separated ourselves from Christ’s Church. I’m thankful for so much that the Catholic Church does, and it’s this time of the year (especially this year) that I find myself expressly reflecting upon that fact.
It is here in the Catholic Church that I can receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, not a mere symbol, and I am thankful that our Lord is able to give us this great gift of himself. I can’t find that if I leave for a megachurch, or a “just Jesus and me” spirituality. Jesus is head of the Church and we are the body. I need my brothers and sisters to build me up. I need the Eucharist to nourish me. I need the sacrament of confession to restore me and cleanse me. And all these things are given to me by Jesus Christ through his Church. These are the things I am most thankful for and it is why I am still to this day so very thankful to be Catholic.
Remember, in the End God Wins
Despite all the times we want to despair because of what is coming out in the news, we must realize that the Catholic Church is still necessary and that this Church of Jesus Christ still has a great message for the world. It still proclaims the Good News to a world that sorely needs it, and the world can only be transformed by turning to him, and the grace he bestows upon us, through the sacramental life of the Church. Remember that each and every one of us as baptized Catholics are the Church. Again, Christ is the head and we are the members, the Body. We can bring that Good News to our loved ones.
If we’re thankful for something, shouldn’t we share it? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI surely thinks so. His words should inspire us as we set aside earthly cares to focus more on the very real spiritual realities surrounding us this Thanksgiving:
“[Christ] has transformed the Cross, suffering, and all the evil of the world into ‘thanksgiving.’ And thus, He has transformed life and the world fundamentally and has given us and gives us every day the bread of true life, which surpasses the world thanks to the strength of His love.
“We want to insert ourselves in this ‘thanksgiving’ of the Lord and thus really receive the novelty of life and help in the transubstantiation of the world: that it be not a world of death but of life; a world in which love has conquered death.”