Now thank we all our God -- even in hard times Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes by Fr. Donald Lange

Robert Orben bought a baby turkey early in January. He fed it organic food to enable it to grow and become the plump, juicy main course of their Thanksgiving dinner.

His three children quickly made the turkey their pet. Like Mary's little lamb, it followed them wherever they went.

When their mother was gone, the children let the turkey follow them inside the house. Though the children loved the turkey, Robert would show them who was boss. He proclaimed firmly that they would have the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

His family did have the turkey for their Thanksgiving meal. The turkey sat at Robert Orben's right. Both turkey and children had much for which to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

History of Thanksgiving Day

The roots of Thanksgiving Day go back to the pilgrims. After a long hard winter during which more than half of them died from disease and exposure to the elements, the remaining pilgrims were so grateful they survived that they shared a three-day feast of Thanksgiving with their Indian friends.

As America became more prosperous, Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, if at all, with no set date.

Sarah Hale, a young widow and mother of five children, best known for writing the poem "Mary had a Little Lamb," worked tirelessly to change this. In 1822 she began a 40-year campaign of writing to governors and presidents requesting that Thanksgiving be officially recognized as a national holiday. Three presidents turned her down.

Finally on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as an annual day of Thanksgiving. President Lincoln seemed to have little for which to be thankful. America was torn by civil war, many members of his cabinet despised him, and his wife had been investigated as a possible traitor. Yet he proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be a national holiday.

Thanking God for our gifts

There is a similar story behind the song ''Now Thank We All Our God," which we often sing at Thanksgiving Day Mass. During the terrible 30 Years War, Eilenberg, Germany, was devastated by a plague, famine, and war casualties. In 1637 Martin Rinkart, the only clergyman left in that city conducted 4,000 funerals. This included the funeral of his wife and many other family members. This surely tested his faith and gratitude.

Near the war's end, Rinkart published the song "Now Thank We All Our God." When we sing this song, we may appreciate it more by remembering the story of faith behind the song.

Gratitude must be learned. When we were children, our parents taught us to be grateful by words and example. They taught us to be good stewards who recognize that ultimately our blessings are gifts from God.

We may have protested, "But I work hard for everything I have.'' This may be true. But the gifts of health, living in a country where we can work, and energy enable us to work hard. Without them, we might not be able to work.

God gives us the gifts of life, parents, time, talents, resources, and faith. Our vocation is to use our gifts to help to bring about God's kingdom.

Sharing our gifts with others

In the opening prayer of the Thanksgiving Day Mass the priest prays, "Father, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite. On Thanksgiving Day we come before you with gratitude for your kindness: open our hearts to concern for our fellow men and women so that we may share your gifts in loving service."

St. John Chrysostom, a father of the early Church, wrote ''not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and to deprive them of life." We can share our gifts with the needy by contributing to food pantries, sponsoring a third world child, calling lonely persons, sharing meals with shut-ins, or contributing to the Campaign for Human Development.

Before we enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, we can thank God for gifts of food, fellowship, and family. We can pray for starving people who would gladly devour our scraps if they could. We can thank God for eyes to see, ears to hear, arms to embrace, and feet to go the extra mile for others. The Holy Spirit will show us other ways to be thankful for our blessings, if we ask.

At Mass, we praise and thank God for the priceless gift of the paschal mystery by which we are offered the gift of eternal life. Grateful participation in the Eucharistic Banquet graces us to bring a thankful and prayerful heart to Thanksgiving Day.

Since Eucharist means Thanksgiving, perhaps we can resolve to participate in Mass on Thanksgiving Day and whenever we can. May we thank God for our blessings on Thanksgiving Day and every day. May our Thanksgiving Day be filled with food, fellowship, gratitude, and Jesus.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.