Thursday, November 23, 2017

(197) PUT THANKS BACK INTO THANKSGIVING DAY: History; Count Your Blessings Before Eating the Turkey

       Happy Turkey Day!  What?  You’re kidding me!  That’s crazy… if that dead bird is happy.  In many of our public schools our kids learn that the pilgrims had a feast to thank the Indians for their help.  Like Christmas, our secular society is losing the meaning of Thanksgiving, not even saying grace before the feast with family.  A good practice is to begin the day with a Mass of Thanksgiving and at the family feast, have each person around the table, especially each child say what he or she has to be thankful for.

         Yes, the Indians were invited to the first thanksgiving feast to celebrate the first harvest with gratitude to Providence in October 1621 because God used them to help the Pilgrims survive and establish themselves.  Yes, they ate turkey because that was common wild game of the time and even today in our Gallia County.  May we relive that feast of gratitude with our families.

Let’s go into the real story of Thanksgiving Day.  It’s really a story of hardship and trust in God’s providence……..that He will provide.

       In 1534 King Henry VIII renounced the authority of the Pope and declared himself to be the head of the Church in England.  After his death in 1547, his successors, including his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603), continued in that mode.  However, there were groups that thought that the Church of England was too Catholic.  The Puritans wanted to purify the Church.  

     Another group thought that the Church was beyond repair and separated to start a new church, simpler and less structured like the first Christians, but it was illegal to belong to any church outside of the Church of England.  Catholics were viciously persecuted.  Perceived as a threat, these Separatists were harassed, fined, or jailed.  After two failed attempts, they fled this persecution to more tolerant and liberal Holland.  After 12 years, they were becoming absorbed into the Dutch culture and began to lose their English heritage.  With a war looming with Spain, they decided to move to the New World.

        With the help of an investing company, the Pilgrims started out with two ships, but had to turn back twice and finally abandon the leaky Speedwell.  They finally started again in the Mayflower with 102 passengers on September 3, 1620 and sailed for 66 difficult days, arriving close to winter on November 11 near Cape Cod.   

The Mayflower Compact

          There the men signed the Mayflower Compact as a charter for democratic community government.  On December 16 they finally found Plymouth Rock to be suitable for settlement.  The people lived on the ship while constructing cabins.  Having inadequate food and deficient shelter from the cold and wet weather, many caught scurvy and pneumonia.  Half of them died; imagine how their faith was put to the test.  Only 52 people survived the first year on the salty food on the ship.  They called themselves pilgrims since they completed a long journey for spiritual purposes…….to practice their religion in freedom.
Reproduction of a pilgrim settlement at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA
       God sends Squanto as His instrument.  God allowed the Pilgrims to suffer to test and build their faith while bringing them closer to Him.  All the while and years before their voyage, God had a plan to provide for His people.  For years English traders dealt with the Indians in the fur trade in New England.   In 1612 a Captain Hunter forcibly captured a 12 year old boy, named Squanto, with several others and threw them onto the ship.  He sold them as slaves in Malaga, Spain.  We shall see how God made good out of evil. 

Squanto was sold to an order of monks and lived with them, learning about the faith and becoming a Catholic.  Yearning for home after three years, the monks helped him to get to England, where he could board a ship to America.  Waiting for the opportunity, Squanto worked as a stable boy for three more years, becoming fluent in English.  Finally his prayers were answered and he was hired as a translator on a ship headed for the New World.  Lo and behold he ended up in Massachusetts, very close to where he was raised.  Squanto found his native village, but discovered that everyone was wiped out by Smallpox.  First he lived with a neighboring tribe and then by himself.

In the Spring Squanto stumbled upon the Pilgrim settlement. The settlers were flabbergasted; out of the woods came an Indian  who spoke perfect English!  The Lord was with the Pilgrims all the time!  Squanto grew up in the area where the Pilgrims settled and knew the land. Coincidence?   Since his people were gone, the Pilgrims became his family.  Squanto taught them how to plant corn, catch eels from the streams, lobsters and fish from the ocean.  

        God had a special mission for Squanto years before and prepared him for it…….to help the Pilgrims to adapt to a new and strange land.  Furthermore, Squanto helped the Pilgrims to befriend neighboring tribes of Indians.   At the end of the Summer they had a bountiful harvest.  The 53 pilgrims celebrated with 90 of their Wampanoag Indian friends for three days in October 1621 and thanked God for His providence. 

Thanking God has been part of our national fabric throughout our nation’s history.  While the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia in 1777, the Continental Congress issued the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania.  General George Washington, leader of American forces, proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving in December of that same year as a celebration of the defeat of the British at Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War. In the middle of the Civil War after the victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham proclaimed a Day of National Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863 and it became an annual tradition, something that most countries do not have.  When there are five Thursdays in  November, Congress settled on the fourth Thursday in 1942.  Now you know the rest of the Thanksgiving story…….not really a holiday, but a holy day.

   Knowing the real story of Thanksgiving, let’s bring God back to Thanksgiving.  Make the day live up to its name.  Thank the Lord at Mass in the morning.  Eucharist does come from the Greek which means thanksgiving.  Watch some football and thank the Lord at dinner.
What do we have to be thankful for?  THINK!  Everything ultimately comes from God……..our health, our talents, our skills, our knowledge, our education, our wealth, our possessions, our homes, our food, our parents, our family, our Church, our friends, answered prayer, etc.  Thanksgiving is a very important component of prayer, which may also include adoration (praise), confession (repentance), supplication (petition), meditation, and spiritual reading.

How about if things aren’t going well for you?  St. Paul reminds us: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:16-18) because it will ultimately lead to our good.  That’s the mystery of the cross.  God will make good out of a current setback, illness, injury, accident, problem, difficulty, etc.  He will provide.  That’s where TRUST comes in.  Humbly accepted and offered up to the Lord through Mary for the conversion of sinners, crosses will make saints out of us and bring us closer to God. “For those who love God all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28).

The top 30 thanksgiving verses in the Bible can be found at Our Lord taught thanksgiving in the Gospels as (Luke 17:11-19). As you put your head on the pillow each night, examine your day and think of things that you can thank God for.

Other Sources