Today we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States. Although this is a national holiday, for those of us with Catholic faith, “thanksgiving” takes on a special significance, because we know that all gifts and blessings come from God, and that the word we use for our ultimate gift, Eucharist, literally means “Thanksgiving.”
The Catechism teaches:
1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.
1360 The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.”
1361 The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he unites the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.
Back in January in Panama, during the World Youth Day festivities, Pope Francis gave an address to the bishops of Central America, and he spoke about thanksgiving and gratitude in the context of “thinking with the Church,” using the life, conversion, ministry, and martyrdom of St. Oscar Romero as an example of someone who exemplified these values:
When Saint Ignatius sets out the rules for thinking with the Church – forgive the publicity – he tries to help the retreatant overcome any type of false dichotomy or antagonism that would reduce the life of the Spirit to the habitual temptation to make God’s word serve our own interest. This can give the retreatant the grace to recognize that he is part of an apostolic body greater than himself, while at the same time being aware of his own strengths and abilities: an awareness that is neither feeble nor selective or rash. To feel part of a whole that is always more than the sum of its parts (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 235), and is linked to a Presence that will always transcend him (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 8).
So I would like to focus this preliminary thinking with the Church, along with Saint Oscar, on thanksgiving, or rather gratitude, for all the unmerited blessings we have received. Romero instinctively knew how to understand and appreciate the Church, because he loved her deeply as the wellspring of his faith. Without this deep love, it would be difficult to understand the story of his conversion. It was that same love that led him to martyrdom: a love born of receiving an utterly free gift, one that does not belong to us but instead frees us from any pretension or temptation to think that we are its proprietors or its sole interpreters. We did not invent the Church; she was not born with us and she will carry on without us. This attitude, far from encouraging sloth, awakens and sustains boundless and unimaginable gratitude. Martyrdom has nothing to do with faintheartedness or the attitude of those who do not love life and cannot recognize its value. On the contrary, the martyr is one who is capable of incarnating and living fully this act of thanksgiving.
Romero “thought with the Church”, because before all else he loved the Church as a mother who had brought him to birth in the faith. He felt a member and a part of her.
Pope Francis has been trying to teach us that living the life of a Christian is to embody a love for and thankfulness to God for everything he provides. Being a fully Catholic Christian is understanding our self-worth as a beloved child of God, yet also knowing that as God’s beloved we are part of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we participate in the mission of the Church, to give our lives to evangelization and sharing the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.
The unity of the Church is essential to this mission, and the visible source of that unity is the pope, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Many Catholics through the centuries have forgotten that. But, as Francis says, “We did not invent the Church; she was not born with us and she will carry on without us.” We do have a choice: we can either participate in the mission of the Church, under the guidance of the Successor of Peter, or we can resist, rebel, and disrupt.
Speaking of unity, some have taken Pope Francis’s tweet of the day as a warning to American families who might have a tendency towards arguing over political, moral, or religious differences during holiday gatherings”
How important it is to learn to be a friendly and outstretched hand! Try to grow in friendship even with those who think differently than you, so that solidarity might grow among you and become the best weapon to change the course of history.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 28, 2019
All of us at Where Peter Is want to express our heartfelt gratitude to our readers and supporters. We are also extremely grateful for our faith and for the wonderful gift of Pope Francis.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Image: Adobe stock.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.