In little less than a week, Americans will gather around dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. There will be family gatherings. There will be turkey on the table with all the “fixin’s”. But will there be a moment of true thanks-giving?
To ensure that Thanksgiving Day not only keeps its traditions, but also its spirit, I suggest we turn our eyes to Mary and her Magnificat recorded in the Gospel of Luke 1:46-56. Mary’s thanksgiving has something to teach us about our own.
Directed to God
Mary’s song of thanksgiving is directed to God. She recognizes that all that is good, whether it be in her life or the life of her Jewish ancestors, has its source in God. But what about today? Do we have the same Marian outlook on life? Do we acknowledge the same Divine source of all that is good in our life?
Besides the turkey, the pigskin, and the get togethers, another tradition generally makes it on the list of “Thanksgiving things to-do”: answering the question, “What are you thankful for?” The response that immediately follows usually sounds a little something like this: “I am thankful for x, y, and z…”
The gesture is nice. The intention is honorable. The tradition should be kept. But the response, and better yet, our mindset needs improvement.
There tends to be a big Who missing from the conversation. Our thanksgiving should be directed to God. There is a beautiful hymn that captures the heart of this idea. In it we sing:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices.
Who wonderous things hath done
In whom his world rejoices
Who, from our mother’s arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
The Magnificat, Mary’s Thanksgiving, sings the same praise. Every day, but especially this coming Thursday, we should also be sure to direct our thanks to God.
Rooted in history
Mary’s thanksgiving, like our own, is also deeply rooted in history. Being transcendent does not make God oblivious to the concrete circumstances of our daily lives, whether they be personal, familial, or national. Mary’s Magnificat is deeply aware of this. She recognizes that God has not only touched her life, but also that of her Jewish ancestors, and humanity as a whole. This historical awareness blossoms into an essential human virtue: piety.
Mary recognizes that her identity as a woman is rooted in something deeper and more stable that self-perception. It is rooted in her relationships: her relationship to God, to her family/ancestors, and her nation. She is a pious woman. Taken broadly piety is often associated with prayerfulness. Mary is a prayerful woman. But her piety is more. It is an expression of humility. She is not a self-made woman. Rather she is God-made, she is family-made, she is Jewish-made. Rightly then did she call herself earlier on the “handmaid” of the Lord (cf. Lk 1:38).
And what about our Thanksgiving? It is also rooted in history. There is a push today to re-write much of Western, and especially American, history. Once a past can be erased or retold, then a new present and future can take shape. This might sound promising, but in reality the only thing that it can promise is slavery.
An absence of truth always leads to a loss of freedom. Satan knew this from “the beginning”, which is why he hid the truth from Eve’s eyes (cf. Gen 3:1). Wherever truth reigns, freedom reigns. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (Jn 8:32).
But do we know the truth? Not only the truth about our national tradition of Thanksgiving (there’s more to it than the Pilgrims, native Americans, and a harvest feast), but more importantly salvation history, Catholic history, Western history, and our own family’s history?
Besides the treasure of truth these histories can teach us, there is also buried within them timeless wisdom to guide us along the path of our present and future. Mary had a difficult road ahead of her too in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. But it was reading her story in the light of God’s story, her people’s story, and all human history that gave her reason to hope and reason to rejoice.
Mary’s song of thankful praise is directed to God. It is rooted in history. But it is also something deeply personal. God has done “great things” in her. In Luke’s Gospel, she does not explicitly tell us what these “great things” are. She keeps them to herself. She keeps them in her heart. This silent meditation also teaches us how we can live our Thanksgiving Day.
It is good to give voice to our thanksgiving: to share expressions of gratitude with others and to share them even verbally with God. But there is also a need to hold them in our heart; to ponder them silently in God’s presence; to let their truth saturate our souls and fill our wills with a new resolve.
Thanksgiving Day is America’s moment to reflect together. We take time away from work. We pray. We remember. We give thanks. But we should also resolve to begin again: the work of placing God first, the effort to live in humility, piety, and solidarity within our families and our communities, the task of knowing where we come from, i.e. grounding our identity through our fundamental relationships and being lovers of truth and students of history.
Pausing to reflect on all that we have received over the year and over a lifetime is the only way to grow in gratitude. Grateful people are not only the happiest people in the world, but they are also the most capable of love. Perhaps gratitude’s greatest side-effect is the latter: an increase in love. It is love that responds to love. It is love—and especially love for God and His bountiful goodness—that should shape our resolve to begin again.
After singing her Magnificat, Mary had to set foot again on the path back to Nazareth. Back home. Back to work. She did it with love and with the expectation of seeing Love face-to-face. We hope for the same. Christ is our Thanksgiving (cf Lk 22:19). Christ is God-with-us. Christ is the Lord of History. Christ is ours. What are we doing to be His?
Happy Thanksgiving! Be His by making yourself all Hers!