In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed that a new holiday would be observed every fourth Thursday of November in order that the nation might collectively offer “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” While Thanksgiving — like so many other holidays — has been commandeered by secular culture and untethered from its Judeo-Christian moorings, its distinctly religious character cannot be denied.
To offer thanks in the first place is to offer them to someone, the source of the goodness which invites a response of gratitude. Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that the “debt of gratitude flows from charity, which the more it is paid the more it is due.” Thanksgiving is not for those who are merely contented with the goods they possess or who even delight in their possession. Thanksgiving is for those who have known the love and goodness of a beneficent Father and recognize in all humility that there is no other response to make but loving gratitude. Thanksgiving is not just about considering the things we’re thankful for, but to whom we should be thankful.
As we approach the end of each year and observe the darkening and deadening of nature, every fourth Thursday of November reminds us of our radical dependence upon him who is the source of all light and life. May we, as believers and as a nation, rediscover the debt of gratitude we owe to God, who is the source of every good gift.