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Keep “Thanks” in Thanksgiving

thanksgiving dinner

I know, it’s a corny play on the old standby “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But hear me out. 

Thanksgiving is the quintessential fall holiday. Falling leaves, cooler temps, cozy sweaters and pumpkin-spice everything–this is the feel. Then add in the Biggest Meal of the Year with turkey, and all the trimmings, football on every television in the house, and early-bird Black Friday shopping, and that is what we call Thanksgiving. The actual reason for the holiday may be a tiny footnote for most of us; oh yes, it’s something to do with the harvest and pilgrims and native Americans and a feast to celebrate something. And can you please pass the gravy…

Many of us do consider giving thanks on Thanksgiving. In fact, lots of families make an effort to emphasize gratitude that day, even going around the table and letting everyone say one or two things they are particularly thankful for. Some people write down things they are grateful for, and they’re read out at dinner. Families might offer a prayer and invite friends or family to express thanks to God. These are certainly good practices. 

But maybe today, when we’re not in a tryptophan-induced coma, we can spend a little more time thinking about the meaning of “thanksgiving.”

Why be Thankful at All?

It’s baked into our human nature to be grateful for life, peace, children, material possessions, jobs, a day off work, gifts, and even chocolate. Some people may have more trouble expressing gratitude than others, but in our society, it is seen as a positive emotion and is encouraged from our childhood. (Remember hand-written thank-you cards? Maybe we should bring them back.)

Besides the expression of gratitude as a social construct, there are other reasons to be thankful, even if it’s not expressed. 

Google the word gratitude, and you’ll see over 4 million results–why it’s important, how to practice gratitude, quotes to inspire you to be thankful, videos about gratitude–literally millions more. Some of the most interesting results involve the physical and mental benefits of gratitude. Gratitude literally changes your brain chemistry by increasing your level of serotonin, telling your brain to make more dopamine, the “pleasure” hormone. 

Better sleep, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, more energy, less stress–and the list goes on. Who doesn’t want all that? Publishers have cashed in on the gratitude trend. Self-help books abound. Gratitude journals are available wherever books are sold. And Pinterest is chock full of advice for how to journal it all out. (As a side note, I have tried gratitude journaling and noticed over time it either became a “where I went and what I ate” journal or a “gripe” journal disguised as a gratitude journal. So maybe it’s not for everyone.)

All that being said, according to credible studies, it literally pays your mind and body to live a life of gratitude. 

But is it “all about me” when it comes to gratitude?

Why be Thankful to God?

The dictionary definition of gratitude is “the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God.” I emphasize this because it is distinctly different from a general, secular view of gratitude that is more about appreciating good things in life without attributing them to a spiritual source. 

All world religions emphasize and practice gratitude as an expression of their faith. Many faith traditions express thanks to God through acts of service. What we’re all getting right is that being grateful to God is important because it acknowledges a higher power as the source of blessings and encourages a deeper sense of spirituality and connection. It also reinforces the idea of divine providence and promotes a sense of humility and thankfulness for the specific gifts and guidance received from a religious or spiritual perspective.

As Catholics, thanksgiving is a part of everything we do. At the beginning of Mass, we pray and sing in the Gloria: “We give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O  God, almighty Father.” In the preface dialogue of the Eucharistic prayer, the priest entreats us: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” To which we (hopefully enthusiastically) respond, “It is right and just.” Our responsorial Psalms are often of thanksgiving, like Psalm 136, often sung at Mass, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.”

Outside of Mass, we have a whole host of saints reminding us to be thankful (regardless of the circumstances).

  • In all created things, discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things, give Him thanks.— St. Teresa of Avila
  • Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that; because you have been despised; because you haven’t what you need or because you have. Thank him for everything, because everything is good.— St. Josemaria Escriva 
  • The best way to show your gratitude to God and to people is to accept everything with joy.—St. Teresa of Calcutta
  • Thank God ahead of time.—Blessed Solanus Casey
  • Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.—St. John Chrysostom

And, let us not forget that our Holy Father exhorts us to gratitude. “If we are bearers of gratitude, the world itself will become better, even if only a little bit, but that is enough to transmit a bit of hope.”

Why does our Church call us to live lives of gratitude, in good times and bad? To learn to live as Christ did. 

Jesus himself gave us the blueprint for gratitude to God. In the Gospels, Jesus thanked God for revealing his truth to “little children.” He gave thanks before feeding the 4,000 and 5,000. He gave thanks to God for hearing him before he raised Lazarus from the dead. He gave thanks for the wine and bread at the Last Supper. It is “truly right and just” to give our thanks to God because he sent his beloved Son, Jesus, “so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.” God deserves our thanks for loving us this much and wanting us to be with him for eternity.

The very word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” 

Back to Thanksgiving…

Turkey Day approaches with all of its gravy-laden goodness. And while a lot of the celebrations will include gratitude in some way,  how can we, as Catholic organizations, parishes, and apostolates, help put more “thanks” into “Thanksgiving?”

Encourage families to go to Mass on Thanksgiving. (I can almost hear the groans and see the eye rolls.) It might be a sacrifice for many families to attend Mass on Thursday of the thirty-third week in Ordinary Time, but put it out there anyway and let the Holy Spirit do His thing.

Okay, here are some ideas that might be more doable for your parishioners.

Include a prayer for Thanksgiving in your bulletin the Sunday before Thanksgiving, publish it on your website, and encourage all your families to pray it at dinner. Just imagine the entire parish joining in prayer together using the same words!

The week of Thanksgiving, send daily “gratitude prompts” via email or text message. Examples: List five ways God has worked in your life this year that you can be grateful for. What challenges have you faced this year, and how can you be grateful for those challenges? How do you show your gratitude to God day to day?

Alternately, send daily “we’re thankful for you” emails or text messages. Let your parish or constituents know that you are grateful for them–and not just their financial contributions. Note how you see your community thriving. Personalize the messages if you can. MinistryPlatform allows you to personalize to a group, so, for instance, you could send “we’re grateful for you” emails to all your volunteers, youth ministers, or deacons with a special message just for each group. 

I am thankful for ministry partners and friends of ACST Catholic! You will all be in my prayers today and every day.

About Polly King

Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.

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