I recall being struck years ago by these words about gratitude from the late Fr. Brian Massie, S.J. “You can’t be grateful and be selfish or mean at the same time; there is no room in your heart. If you are truly grateful for the blessings you have received, then you are not jealous or envious, you’re not petty, you’re not small.”
Most of us in this country have so much for which to be grateful. Each day we hear of more bloodshed, violence and poverty throughout the world. If we really reflect on this, we probably ask ourselves, “Who am I to be so incredibly blessed!”
Thanksgiving Day is a day for that kind of reflection, so that we are almost overwhelmed by the goodness in our lives. Thus, the image of the cornucopia is an appropriate symbol on this day – the horn of plenty overflowing with the abundance of the earth.
Many people claim that the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to 1578, when the English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew gave thanks to God for their wellbeing upon arrival in the eastern Arctic.
Of course, they did not start an official holiday. It’s simply that they did what most of us would do upon a safe arrival after a harrowing voyage – give thanks and celebrate. The ship’s log records, “Mayster Wolfall [Robert Wolfall], a learned man, appointed by her Majesties Councell to be their minister and preacher, made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places …”
Years later, French settlers crossed the ocean and arrived in New France with Samuel de Champlain. From 1604 on, the settlers held huge feasts of thanks, forming the Order of Good Cheer and sharing their bounty with their First Nations neighbours.
A yearly celebration of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by Parliament in 1879, as “a day of general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” The original date proclaimed by Parliament was November 6 each year, in recognition that the farm crops were all in. In 1957 Parliament changed the date to the second Monday in October.
Today’s Collect at Mass says, “God, whose gifts are countless and whose goodness is without limit, teach us, we pray, to use wisely the rich blessings of land and sea, to be attentive to the needs of others, and to give as freely as we have received, that we may, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards.”
Whatever this holiday includes for us, let’s make room in our day to pause and give thanks for all the good we have received. Let’s also call to mind those in our country who are not as fortunate, whether because of poor health, natural disasters, unemployment, or poverty. Let’s fill up on turkey and stuffing, but let’s also allow our hearts to fill up on thanksgiving.