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“Let us Give Him Thanks for the Gift of Faith”
by Dr. Steve Cain
Remarks at the New England Thanksgiving Dinner
November 20, 2022
By happy coincidence, we are celebrating today, a little in advance, in obedience to our country, a day of thanksgiving, and also, in obedience to the Church, the Feast of Christ the King. That we should be celebrating these two feasts together is significant, and I would like to say a few words about that significance.
We have come together as Americans, with a large welcome to our friends from other lands, to give thanks, to show gratitude to Almighty God for the many blessings He continues to shower upon us. The first celebration of this civic feast was called for by President George Washington. Here is his proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, made shortly after the ratification of the Constitution:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
I would like to draw particular attention to the first words of this proclamation: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” President Washington sees this as a duty of nations, that is, of political bodies. When the carrying out of this duty is done in public celebration, when it becomes a public holiday, it is also their excellence, the greatest act of the city, for it is a participation in the contemplation of the First Cause and beneficent Ruler of the world which constitutes our happiness. This is the end of human life, of human association in the natural order.
And so on this day we offer up our thanks to God for all the many blessings, both material and moral, that He bestows upon us. This is symbolized for us in the icon, as it were, of this holiday, the cornucopia, the horn of plenty. But there is another aspect of this holiday present in President Washington’s proclamation, and echoed later in President Lincoln’s, that does not get as much attention, namely, penitence.
Thomas Jefferson, apparently over concerns for the separation of church and state, set aside the celebration of this holiday. But President Lincoln reinstated it, and made it permanent, in the midst of the Civil War. There is something great-souled in the ability, in the midst of such evil, such bloodshed of brotherly blood, to see the fittingness of giving thanks to the Provident God for His blessings, and to place the blame for the national suffering where it belonged. In his proclamation, he exhorted the citizens of this country, “while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perversness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strive in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.”
This need for penitence, recognizable even on the natural level, was strikingly evident in the Civil War, but it has been with us always. It is good to recall this, for the evils of our own times, because they loom larger in our imaginations, can lead us to give up hope, can lead us to overlook the many blessings we are receiving, and make us think that these times are worse than former times. But they are not. Just as then, so now, there is a real need for penitent prayer to ask God “to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.” And we should pray for this, but with an awareness that the perfect fulfillment of this prayer, because we are such imperfect creatures, will not come in this life.
This brings me to the Feast of Christ the King, and an addition to the blessings we should give thanks for. Though the natural virtues give us something of excellence, they cannot point us to our true happiness. For this, we need the gift of faith; for this we have been given the gift of faith. Through this gift, we have a deeper sense of what true happiness is, and so have a deeper sense even of the meaning of our political associations. We can understand and more easily suffer its imperfections, but more importantly, we can see more clearly the perfect life to which this imperfect one points.
Our feasting in this life ought to point to and make us long for the wedding feast of the Lamb; Our citizenship in this nation ought to point to and make us long for citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our faith, we can see more clearly where and when we will come to “the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union,” when we enter into the Kingdom of Christ the King.
And so, let us, this thanksgiving, give thanks to God for the material prosperity He has bestowed on us. Let us give thanks for the families and friends that give even this life so many joys. Let us give thanks for the freedoms that He has bestowed on us through our country that allow us to gather together here in the pursuit of moral and intellectual excellence. And let us give Him thanks for the gift of faith, which elevates all these joys by leading us to place our hearts where they will find true peace and rest, in Him.
God bless us all.
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