Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, and yet, as it has historically been celebrated in the United States, it's also one of the least Catholic. The story of the Pilgrims may be inspiring, but from the time I've understood what it meant to be a Catholic, I've realized that it isn't our story. And yet, as a Catholic and an American, I have much for which to offer thanks. So what's a Catholic American to do?
The best way to make Thanksgiving Catholic, of course, is to attend Mass on Thanksgiving Day. The Church provides a special Mass for the holiday, the theme of which is gratitude for the gifts of God and--just as importantly--the need to dedicate ourselves to serving others who are less fortunate.
To that end, many Catholic churches provide meals for the poor or food baskets. In these trying economic times, such generosity can make a great difference. If your church has such a ministry, why not volunteer to help? And if it doesn't, consider starting a St. Vincent de Paul Society to help out the poor year-round.
The St. Francis de Sales Society at our church (our equivalent of the St. Vincent de Paul Society) provides food baskets to the poor at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and mid-summer, as well as other support throughout the year. The dedication of a few volunteers, and the occasional help from a larger group of parishioners, works wonders.
In the end, of course, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks. It's been a rough several years for many folks, and the economic turmoil is likely to continue. Yet we all have blessings that we too often overlook--our health, our loved ones, our Catholic Faith. The Catholic Grace Before Meals reminds us of some of that, but it's in the Grace After Meals (too often neglected today) that we're most reminded of the benefits that God has given us and of the people who have helped us the most.
This Thanksgiving, why not revive the tradition of saying Grace After Meals? It's a great way to integrate our Catholic Faith with this most American of holidays.