It is not about lamenting the past or being despondent or critical of the challenges of the present, Thanksgiving is about having gratitude for what we have and more importantly, what we can do to achieve a better world.
Facts are stubborn things. The board president of the Catholic Schools Foundation reminds me of this quite frequently as he challenges me to look past noise, politics, and opinion as we seek best to fulfill our mission to the students, families, and schools we serve. This line is also most appropriate as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has become the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season, a moment to highlight the treatment of Native Americans in the United States, and for generations of students it was a celebration of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. None of what Thanksgiving has become is in-line with what was officially decreed in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's proclamation 2522, declared on Nov. 8, 1941:
"I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set aside Thursday, the twentieth day of November 1941, as a day to be observed in giving thanks to the Heavenly Source of our earthly blessings.
"Our beloved country is free and strong. Our moral and physical defenses against the forces of threatened aggression are mounting daily in magnitude and effectiveness.
"In the interest of our own future, we are sending succor at increasing pace to those peoples abroad who are bravely defending their homes and their precious liberties against annihilation.
"We have not lost our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment. The love of democracy still burns brightly in our hearts.
"We are grateful to the Father of us all for the innumerable daily manifestations of His beneficent mercy in affairs both public and private, for the bounties of the harvest, for opportunities to labor and to serve, and for the continuance of those homely joys and satisfactions which enrich our lives.
"Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us.
"On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time."
This proclamation was issued less than one month prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The world was at war: Jews, Gypsies, artists, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and political adversaries were being slaughtered in Europe. It was a terrifying time in the world. Despite all of this -- or perhaps because of this -- Roosevelt decreed a time to give thanks.
Facts are important. Modern Thanksgiving is not a celebration of the pilgrims but a moment to take stock, to be grateful and strive to move forward as a people with "our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment." The history of our country, our church, and our world has not always lived up to this statement, but now is not the time to look back with contempt, but instead to look forward with hope. God is present with us; the Spirit is at work and there is much for which to be grateful.
Now, more than ever, we need young people who look beyond their present situation to understand the place of the other, to deal with facts and believe in the hope of the Resurrection. We need people to ask questions, and most of all, to have a grateful heart. Gratitude is a powerful force. In some of the most tense and darkest hours in our world, Thanksgiving emerged as a moment to be grateful and affirm our resolve to put an "end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time."
The facts are clear, Thanksgiving is not about pilgrims or retail sales. It is not about lamenting the past or being despondent or critical of the challenges of the present, Thanksgiving is about having gratitude for what we have, and more importantly, what we can do to achieve a better world. Catholic education is needed more than ever to help change the world, to focus on facts, truth, gratitude, and hope. Critical thinking bound in the Gospel is truly powerful.
In some of the darkest hours in our world, a nation paused to give thanks and look forward with hope. This is the fact of why Thanksgiving was decreed.
It is with this fact that we can all look forward with hope towards Advent and Christmas and pray: "Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ."
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.
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