Thanksgiving Day 2016
Though we hearken back each Thanksgiving to images of indigenous peoples sitting down together with the Separatist Pilgrim Christians for a festive meal after a good harvest in 1621, the reality is today’s national holiday is rooted in the divisions of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln, presiding over a divided nation, established this day as a mixture of heartfelt thanksgiving and “humble penitence for our national perverseness”.
We gather this Thanksgiving Day, 150 years after the Civil War ended and two weeks after a national election, to discover that we are again a nation just as, if not more so – divided. Divided to the point that some people are skipping Thanksgiving dinners today because of lingering resentments among family members over the election. The Washington Post reported, a grandmother unfriending her college age granddaughter on Facebook. A father who has stopped talking to his son. Family members threatening to write other family members out of wills. Instead of table prayers of heartfelt thanks to God, these may be replaced by words of anger and confrontation to family members; words that I expect may cut deeper than the knife into the turkey and be difficult to heal.
Too many of us have bought into without reflection the oft repeated maxim that in polite company you don’t talk of politics and religion. Oddly, we are instructed to remain silent about two of the most important areas of human interaction as social and spiritual beings. The maxim though does embody some truth. You can’t talk of politics, religion or any other significant topic if there is not mutual respect for the other person; a respect enfolded in a humility which first presumes the best of intentions in the other person and that each of you hold some portion of the truth but not the whole truth. This presumption combined with the art of listening binds the conversation in good faith. A tall order for one meal on one day a year. That is why we Catholics gather around the Lord’s Table each week, Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, to learn from God “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”; to experience “bearing with one another and forgiving one another… as the Lord has forgiven us” and to be “thankful” in the midst of our repentance. [See Colossians 3:12-17]
Lincoln’s insight to blend thankfulness with penitence is rooted in Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Liturgy, our “Kyrie eleisons” (Lord, have mercy upon us) combined with “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” Regretfully penitence and thankfulness are again needed today. How each of us may have voted and the political views we hold are irrelevant. What is important?
With what attitude will we approach the tables we will sit at today and what values will we bring toward the people with whom we will be sharing a meal?