From a Thanksgiving Day Homily
The giving of a gift is a prerequisite to gratitude. We cannot be thankful if nothing has been given to us. To be a thankful person, therefore, means we understand there to be a source behind all good things. For good things do not merely happen. Good things are given by someone. A thankful person recognizes this, which, by the way, makes the virtue of thankfulness the antidote to the dangerous vice of entitlement. Entitlement destroys the concept of gift. Everything, to the entitled person, is owed, not graciously bestowed.
Americans are not, by nature, an entitled people. We are, rather, a thankful people. Our independence from Great Britain did not just happen because we wrote a Declaration of Independence. We fought for our freedom, and were grateful to God when we won. When we had a nation of our own, we had to work to form a government that would last. Which is why it is fitting that we celebrate this uniquely American holiday. (Almost all countries have independence days, labor days, and memorial days, but not thanksgiving days.)
Speaking of the construction of our government, in the midst of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 it appeared as if a compromise on the structure of the government could not be reached. On June 28th, an exasperated Benjamin Franklin stood up in the assembly. “How has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?” Franklin argued that in this same hall a few years back the group had prayed daily during the war with Great Britain. “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?” Franklin suggested the Convention start every session with prayer. “I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”
This sage Founding Father (who, by the way, wanted the turkey, and not the bald eagle, as the national bird because the turkey, a bird of courage, “would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards”) recognized that the Americans were not entitled to a successful nation. God would give them that gift, if we asked for it. Well, God did, and we are still thankful some 200 years later.