Christianity is an historical religion; we profess that the Lord reveals his wisdom, power, and goodness to real people in concrete circumstances: something we call “salvation history.” At the same time, we American Catholics belong to a national family with its own, civil history, one that has been shaped by Christian principles. Even a cursory review of President George Washington’s writings affirms his conviction that our country, founded upon human equality and dignity, came to be by God’s direct intervention. Part of America’s strength is the tolerance of our citizens to welcome people from other traditions, while being true to principles that have honed our collective character for over two centuries. Thus our national motto: e pluribus unum.
We American Catholics do well to discern the activity of God in our national family, perfecting what is good, correcting was isn’t, and forging new paths for greater understanding, compassion, and justice. Recognizing the manifold ways in which God steered our country through the horrors of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared a holiday in 1863 for the purpose of thanking him for bringing injustice to an end, and establishing a new basis for peace. Like Washington before him, Lincoln interprets the gradual resolution of the War (as yet to be resolved) as nothing less than an act of God:
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”
It would be difficult to imagine a human activity more effective in binding hearts and minds than a meal, which is why we make such a big deal over our Thanksgiving celebrations. For this week’s bulletin cover, I tried to find an example of the Holy Family at table (a surprisingly unusual scene), and found this lovely 15th –century painting by the Dutch artist Jan Mostaert. Notice St. Joseph slicing a piece of bread while the Blessed Mother feeds Baby Jesus from a bowl of porridge. Not exactly a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, of course, but it is all the more beautiful for its joyful simplicity, its delicate tranquility. Who is it who said: “A loaf of bread, shared in love, is a banquet”?
With that in mind, I urge you, amid the stuffing and cranberry sauce, the Irish Bread and the pumpkin pie, to savor the real gift of God, namely, the presence of your family and friends gathering in a moment of love. Instead of pointing out the “lumpy” potatoes, let’s remember how good it is to be together. Instead of “talking politics,” let us declare without embarrassment our gratitude for being part of a national family blessed with freedom and peace. May we American Catholics prove to be the best citizens of our earthly city by setting our eyes on its heavenly counterpart. Happy Thanksgiving.