Thanksgiving Day

The celebration of Thanksgiving Day is valuable to our American Culture.  If we celebrate this day well, it allows us to live out our Christianity and values and push back against the encroaching secularism of our time.  Thanksgiving, when we pause to consider its meaning, and when we decide to open our hearts and be thankful, is a natural pathway to God.  As important as the history lesson of the “first Thanksgiving” might be – and as useful as it is to firmly ground our traditional celebration – it has to be about more than Pilgrims, Indians, planting corn and eating a big meal.

Thanksgiving (or gratitude) is a virtue.  It is a virtue rooted in the virtue of justice.  It is a virtue that is all about recognizing a benefit that we have received, and understanding that we are now in debt.  What is so special about this virtue is that it trains us both materially and spiritually towards generosity.  A benefit we have received from the generosity of another demands a return – but we cannot always repay materially, material compensation cannot always be achieved.  You cannot repay your parents for having given you life because you cannot do the same thing – materially speaking – for them.  You cannot repay the teachers who helped you learn what you needed to know in life because they don’t need you to teach them.  The virtue of thanksgiving enables us to repay our debts of gratitude.  It helps us see that no matter what gift we have been given, it must be repaid, and can only truly be repaid with gratitude.  Gratitude is appreciation, it is a softening of the heart, it is a movement of love and recognition.

We understand as people of faith that thanksgiving is due to God.  Of course we thank Him for having provided us with what we need for the life He has given us, for our own parents, and for many good things.  Most importantly, as Christians, we are thankful today for the gift of grace.  What we deserve from our sins and selfishness is not what God could have determined to give us in justice.  God’s gift of forgiveness, mercy, and grace – the option to live with Him for eternity – that is something we did not deserve and cannot repay.  This gift calls forth from our hearts divine gratitude.  Let us be thankful today, and may we live with thanksgiving in our hearts forever.

BEDE:

The city of this age is compared with an unstable millstone because of the weight and error of sins. For “the wicked walk in a circle.” [Babylon] is rightly swallowed up by the waves of retribution, for its citizens oppressed Jerusalem with the waves of infidelity when, sitting by the rivers of Babylon, they bemoaned their absence from the heavenly Zion. For the Lord says that those who cause one to fall are to be punished with a similar punishment. To be sure, the church is also likened to a stone, but one that is stable and firm and withstands the assaults of the tempestuous waves. The millstone may also be understood to represent the crushing of punishments, for even the blessed Ignatius is reported to have said as he was about to suffer, “I am the wheat of God; I am being ground by the teeth of beasts, so that I might be made a pure loaf.” “And the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters shall be heard in it no more.” Of the five senses, the text had until now neglected to mentioned the sense of hearing, which will be taken away along with the other senses. It is as though it said, “What is beautiful to the eye, and melodious to the ear, and smooth to the touch, and sweet to the smell and delicious to the taste, all of that will pass away from the world.”1

OECUMENIUS:

They said, “Hallelujah!” “Hallelujah” is a Hebrew expression that means “praise God” or “sing to God.” Therefore, they are singing a hymn of thanksgiving for the righteous judgment of the spiritual Babylon.2

BEDE:

It says that they are invited to a supper, not to a mere lunch, for at the end of days the supper will certainly be a great feast. Therefore, when the time of the present life is ended, those who come to the refreshment of the heavenly contemplation are truly invited to the supper of the Lamb.3

THOMAS AQUINAS:

Accordingly, since what we owe God, or our father, or a person excelling in dignity, is not the same as what we owe a benefactor from whom we have received some particular favour, it follows that after religion, whereby we pay God due worship, and piety, whereby we worship our parents, and observance, whereby we worship persons excelling in dignity, there is thankfulness or gratitude, whereby we give thanks to our benefactors.4

Thanksgiving (gratiarum actio) in the recipient corresponds to the favour (gratia) of the giver: so that when there is greater favour on the part of the giver, greater thanks are due on the part of the recipient. Now a favour is something bestowed gratis: wherefore on the part of the giver the favour may be greater on two counts. First, owing to the quantity of the thing given: and in this way the innocent owes greater thanksgiving, because he receives a greater gift from God, also, absolutely speaking, a more continuous gift, other things being equal. Secondly, a favour may be said to be greater, because it is given more gratuitously; and in this sense the penitent is more bound to give thanks than the innocent, because what he receives from God is more gratuitously given: since, whereas he was deserving of punishment, he has received grace.6

Seneca says (De Benef. ii.): Who receives a favour gratefully, has already begun to pay it back: and that we are grateful for favours received should be shown by the outpourings of the heart, not only in his hearing but everywhere. From this it is evident that however well off a man may be, it is possible to thank him for his kindness by showing him reverence and honour.7

If, however, the benefactor has lapsed from virtue, nevertheless he should be repaid according to his state, that he may return to virtue if possible. But if he be so wicked as to be incurable, then his heart has changed, and consequently no repayment is due for his kindness, as heretofore. And yet, as far as it possible without sin, the kindness he has shown should be held in memory, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix. 3).8

Seneca says (De Benef. iv.): He that hastens to repay, is animated with a sense, not of gratitude but of indebtedness.9

The Philosopher says (Ethic. v. 5): We should repay those who are gracious to us, by being gracious to them in return, and this is done by repaying more than we have received. Therefore gratitude should incline to do something greater.10

Footnotes

  1. EXPLANATION OF THE APOCALYPSE 18:21–22. Weinrich, W. C. (Ed.). (2005). Revelation (pp. 295–296). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE 19:1-5. Weinrich, W. C. (Ed.). (2005). Revelation (p. 297). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. EXPLANATION OF THE APOCALYPSE 19:9. Weinrich, W. C. (Ed.). (2005). Revelation (p. 303). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
  5. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.[\note]

    Seneca observes (De Benef. vi.), it matters much whether a person does a kindness to us for his own sake, or for ours, or for both his and ours. He that considers himself only, and benefits because he cannot otherwise benefit himself, seems to me like a man who seeks fodder for his cattle. And farther on: If he has done it for me in common with himself, having both of us in his mind, I am ungrateful and not merely unjust, unless I rejoice that what was profitable to him is profitable to me also.5Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.

  6. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
  7. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
  8. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
  9. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
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