Nov 23, 2016
This day has come to be held sacred in the fabric of our nation’s identity since the day it was established as a national holiday in 1777. However, the ritual of a thanksgiving meal goes deeper. It is especially ingrained into the very heart and soul of every Christian after the manner of Christ, “for on the night he was betrayed, he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing”.
For two thousand years, we have done likewise within the context of the Mass, which we also call “Eucharist” which literally means “Thanksgiving”. It is founded, not simply on giving thanks “for” our blessings, but giving thanks “to” our heavenly Father “through Christ our Lord, through whom [he has] bestow on the world all that is good”.
Always mindful of this sacred duty, the first wave of Europeans who came to these shores, they being the Spanish pilgrims, did likewise. When they arrived in Florida on September 8th, 1565, at what is now the city of St. Augustine, the first thing they did was to fast from the night before and, once they set foot on the land celebrated the Eucharist in the open air. Immediately afterwards, the priest, Father Francisco Lopez arranged for the Spanish settlers and the local native American Timucua tribe to sit around a common table for a first thanksgiving meal to be offered in our nation’s history. Not turkey and stuffing, but more likely tortillas and pulled pork!
But is that not the nature, the flavor of the word that describes our Christian character - the word Catholic? It simply means, all inclusive, universal, everyone’s included - it’s what distinguishes us from denominational groups - for around our table, whether they eat our food or bring their own, for two thousand years there’s always been room for every culture, language, tribe and nation.
Even the Pilgrim Fathers would be taught this lesson when they arrived at Plymouth Rock. The first Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Puritans was incredibly and surprisingly, arranged in fact by a Catholic! He had went out of his way to ensure the pilgrims were fed, properly sheltered for the fast coming winter and stayed to teach them how to farm the inhospitable land. He was not an Italian nor an Irishman! He was, in fact, a native American. His name, as historians tell us, was Squanto, also also known as Tisquantum, from one of the New England Wampanoag tribes.
Six years before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto, probably in his late 20’s, had been kidnapped by an English explorer who had every intention of selling him to the Spanish as a slave. However, Catholic clergymen who opposed slavery and human trafficking, intervened and rescued him. He later received instruction in the Christian Faith, was baptised, and became Catholic and was sent home.
It was on Squanto's ancestral tribal lands that the Pilgrims arrived to establish their colony. Unlike any other native American, Squanto took it upon himself to help them, not only to settle in their new surroundings. He negotiated a peace between the pilgrim settlers and the local natives. It was celebrated by a joint meal of gratitude. Overlooked in many of our history books, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to this one, solitary Native American Catholic, who set the stage for, and also set the menu for the first Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1622.
So as we gather for our Sacred Eucharist, and maybe like our Native American Catholic brother, Squanto, we, in this parish family setting, can also be forever grateful to God for putting deep into our hearts and souls a sacred hunger for the food that comes from the Table of the Lord. The menu for this meal, the Resurrected and Heavenly Body and Blood of Christ, can secure us on our own pilgrim journey into eternity. Let us therefore give thanks for this sacred gift and praise for the Giver of every good gift, through Christ our Lord. Amen
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