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Faces on Faith: Lincoln’s attitude of gratitude

By Staff | Nov 23, 2012

Fr. Christopher Senk

Thanksgiving is the most uniquely American of all holidays.

When 600 Spanish settlers arrived in the New World on Sept. 8, 1565, on the shores of what would become St. Augustine, Fla., a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated. This became the first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony in the New World. In Plymouth Plantation, and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, many would proclaim celebrations of Thanksgiving.

Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison would declare Thanksgivings during their tenures, but it was President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a Civil War, who established Thanksgiving Day in the United States as a formal holiday.

Lincoln proclaimed that: “The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God … It has seemed to me fit and proper that (these bounties) be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Lincoln seemed to have it right on so many levels.

In proclaiming what eventually would be looked upon as a secular holiday, Lincoln’s religious sensibilities made it impossible for him to speak of Thanksgiving without speaking of God. Indeed, the gratitude which was meant to mark the lives of every American, even in the midst of the Civil War, was intertwined with a faith which recognized that all is “gift.” Gratitude demands a humility that recognizes every good gift as coming from a loving God.

Lincoln also knew that we enjoy so many gifts and “bounties” each and every day that we are “prone to forget the source from which they come.” For so many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to be especially grateful.

As individuals, as a nation, as a world, there is so very much for which we should pause and say thank you to a loving God, the giver of all good gifts.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. For it is right to give God thanks and praise” on Thanksgiving Day, and indeed, on every day.