It is yet another celebration of “Thanksgiving” in the United States arguably the most American of all holidays. It is an eminently “familial” event. Family reunions are the staple and in fact the highest common factor that characterize the celebration. It is food, family and friends. An intrinsic part of this tradition is the annual presidential pardon of two turkeys. While it sounds perfunctory, this presidential act draws an inner connection between forgiveness and gratitude. One is here reminded of Pope Francis’ recommendation for couples to learn to say, Please, thank you and I am sorry.
In my random musings of the significance of this annual event, I could not help but notice that it comes towards the end of both the calendar year and the liturgical year of the Catholic Church. Hence, it seems thanksgiving is always a celebration of the past. It is always in the rearview.
Looking back in retrospect there is a lot to be grateful for. The many crises moments that one weathered thanks to the many Good Samaritans. One is reminded daily of Ola Rotimi’s words: “The struggles of man begin at birth.” If gold is tested in fire, then life’s storms and vicissitudes present golden moments of growth. Being a Catholic emboldens me to be grateful for the many precious moments life has “tortured” me on this earthly pilgrimage. This is not an impertinent penchant for suffering but an acknowledgement that such is life and to be grateful for these moments. After all, there is a silver lining to every cloud.
In this school of gratitude, the experience of gratitude propels one to be grateful. Hence, on this day, it seems appropriate to reflect on not just being grateful but also of being the subject of gratitude. I remember the protest somebody registered with respect to the bland response “Do not mention” when someone says thank you. One appreciates gratitude better when one is being appreciated. No matter how much we pretend, we feel slighted and hurt when we don’t get those words of appreciation. Conversely, there is a deep sense of motivation when those words “thank you” come our way. Hence, today, the question for me is more, who is grateful for and/or to me? Thanksgiving presents a dual challenge namely: to learn to be grateful but also to learn to provide opportunities for others to be grateful to us.
St. Paul captures this very beautifully when he exhorts the Corinthians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. (2 Cor.1:3-4) Gratitude calls us to action.
One of the areas of growth is in forgiveness. If the Turkey that lacks the capacity for either crime or sin is receiving forgiveness, then we who have the capacity, ask for forgiveness from and grant forgiveness to others. Opray Winfrey expresses this more poignantly when she says: “When we learn to say thank you and mean it, then we also learn to say, I am sorry. True forgiveness is when you can say, thank you for that experience.” Our celebration of thanksgiving then carries more meaning today when we can say also “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven.” A common denominator between gratitude and forgiveness is humility. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of one’s insufficiency and indication of dependency. To be able to say “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven” requires a certain modicum of humility. Gratitude and forgiveness are twin sisters to the parent, humility.
While I say thank you to the many persons that graced and laced my paths over the past 12 months, that is, since the last thanksgiving, I invariably jump to ask myself: who is grateful today that I have forgiven them or that I have apologized to them for some wrong done? Without brooding over the fact of having done something and not being recognized for it, I would rather forgive for the explicit neglect and oversight. Thanksgiving invariably takes on an added dimension within the background of forgiveness.
May families that gather around the dinner table share the meal and not just eat. Josef Pieper reminds us that the meal has a “spiritual or even a religious character.” And like Scruton adds: “That is to say, it is an offering, a sacrifice, and also – in the highest instance – a sacrament, something offered to us from on high, by the very Being to whom we offer it. Animals eat, but there is nothing in their lives to correspond to this experience of the “meal” as a celebration and endorsement of our life here on earth. When we sit down to eat, we are consciously removing ourselves from the world of work and means and industry, and facing outwards, to the Kingdom of ends. Feast, festival and faith lift us from idleness, and endow our lives with sense.” Happy Thanksgiving!