|Why Give Thanks when Things Are Bad?
The Thirty-Fourth Thursday of Ordinary Time; or, (in the United States) Thanksgiving Day.*
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Daniel 6: 12-28.
• Daniel 3: 68-74 (in place of the psalm).
• Luke 21: 20-28.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Sylvester, Abbot; and, the Commemoration of Saint Peter of Alexandria, Bishop & Martyr.
Lessons from the common, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 45: 1-6.
• Psalm 20: 4-5.
• Matthew 19: 27-29.
If a Mass for the commemoration is offered:**
• James 1: 12-18.
• Psalm 88: 21-23.
• Luke 14: 26-33.
The Twenty-Sixth Thursday after Pentecost; the Feast of Our Venerable Father Alypius the Stylite; and, the Commemoration of the Dedication of the Church of the Holy Great Martyr George in Kiev.
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:***
• I Timothy 6: 17-21.
• 2 Timothy 2: 1-10.
• Luke 18: 31-34.
• John 15: 17—16: 2.
In the United States, if the optional Liturgy for Thanksgiving Day is offered,† lessons from the proper:
• I Timothy 6: 6-11, 17-19.
• Luke 12: 13-15, 22-31; or, 12: 42-48.
8:11 AM 11/26/2015 — We typically associate Thanksgiving Day with stories about the pilgrims and some mythical meal they had with the Indians who welcomed them to the new world before we decided to heard them into reservations where they could open casinos and sell tax free cigarettes; but, in reality the first annual Thanksgiving Day was celebrated during the Civil War. President Washington had mandated a day of national prayer of Thanksgiving on this day, but it was President Lincoln who signed the proclamation making it an annual observance during a time that was very bleak indeed. The war was not going well for the United States: Grant’s army had stalled to a stalemate outside of Petersburg, Sherman’s siege of Vicksburg hadn’t been successful, the Confederacy was embargoing all their cotton in an effort to pressure France and England to enter the war on their side; even the Republican Party had convinced itself that Lincoln couldn't be re-elected and that they needed to choose another candidate; and, there was a real sense around the country that the unthinkable would happen and that the Union was actually going to lose the war. And it was during this period that Lincoln signed a proclamation that the last Thursday of November be observed as a National Day of Thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving for what? The country was a little over 80 years old,—there were a few people still around who were living when the Declaration of Independence was signed—and it was already falling apart. The world’s great experiment in democracy was a failure as far as anyone could see; and, all the people who had said in 1790 that it would fail because you can’t hold a country together without some kind of king, were about to be proven right.
What Lincoln understood, I think, is something that we often miss in life: that it isn’t what we have or succeed at that defines us, but how well we keep faith in spite of our troubles that shows the measure of our character. We are, after all, talking about a deeply religious time in our country’s history. Religion was a part of everything, including government; our constitutional right to worship as we please had not yet been twisted into the expulsion of God from the public square. Unfortunately, that’s not true anymore, and may be the reason we seem so obsessed with what’s wrong with everything instead of what’s right. And as true as this may be in society in general, it’s even more true in our own private lives. There’s always something to get depressed about if what you want is to be depressed. It sounds silly to suggest, but don’t we all know people who seem to like being depressed? We all know people who are constantly reminding themselves—and everyone else around them—of everything in life that causes them pain. What is really at issue here is what the saints often refer to as Spiritual Maturity.
A spiritually immature person is someone who acts like a child before God; not in the sense that our Lord talks about when he says to be childlike, but childish, if you can grasp the difference. A child is always focused on what he wants, and always screaming for what he doesn’t have that he thinks everyone else has, and always thinking that no one’s ever been deprived as he has been. And he hasn’t lived long enough to reflect on how life has treated him in the long run. We can understand and forgive it in children because children are supposed to be immature;—that’s what makes them children—but in an adult it is disproportionate. One psychologist, speaking in purely secular terms, said once that the primary function of maturity was the ability to take whatever life dishes out and keep on functioning. For us, who are—or at least trying to be—a religious people, we can translate that into spiritual terms by saying that the spiritually mature person is one who can receive the crosses given to him in life, not necessarily without hardship, not without difficulty or suffering, not even without complaining sometimes, but without any effect on the strength of his faith.
It is said that the first sign of maturity in a child is when he first realizes that mom and dad do know better, not because he’s suddenly developed the wisdom of an adult, but because he understands that they are more experienced than he, and therefore understand things that he can’t yet. And that same thing is true in our relationship with God: we can say we are spiritually mature when we can realize that God’s ways are not our ways, and that it isn’t necessary to understand why this or that has happened, except to understand that God has a handle on it even if we don’t. It takes a lot of humility to reach that point in life, but humility is also a function of maturity.
At the end of the Civil War, reflecting upon everything that had happened to the country during the previous four years, Lincoln said that God had had his own purposes in spite of the various issues that sparked and fueled the war as far as we were concerned, and that we may never truly understand in this life all that was happening; but, that alone was cause enough to give thanks, that even when you can’t see the hand of God clearly, just to know by faith that it’s there is enough.
I hope this Thanksgiving will be one of true thanksgiving to God for all of us; and, that if you’re not yet ready to give thanks for this or that, you can at least give thanks for Him, for Christ who died for us, for the Church that nurtures us, for the faith that sustains us.
* The Third Edition of the Roman Missal in the Unites States provides texts for an observance of Thanksgiving Day with the rank of an optional memorial.
** A Mass for the commemoration would be offered only for a serious reason, such as if the saint so honored is the patron of the parish; otherwise, the commemoration is made only at Lauds and does not figure in the Mass of the day.
*** The lessons from the menaion are for the Martyr; there are no lessons for the Stylite.
† The Byzantine-Ruthenian Metropolitan Church sui iuris of the USA makes this optional Liturgy available in its typicon. If celebrated, the other observances are supressed.