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To Our Beneficent Father

November 23, 2023 3 min read
An autumn path

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday. While suffering a conflict of “unequalled magnitude and severity,” he said, it still seemed fitting to thank God, who, “while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” He went on:

“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.”

Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday per se, but its history has been marked by this deeply religious basis. Human beings are ever intuiting that we have a debt to acknowledge, not just to one another, but to God, whose mysterious Providence blesses and sustains us in surprising and unlooked for ways. Times of “unequalled” difficulty can have the peculiar effect of both moving us to forget that debt, in sometimes darkened and resentful attitudes toward our circumstances, and also to remind us powerfully of it: we begin to hold more closely the gifts of our freedom, our communities, our lives, given to us undeservedly.

At a time when much of the world is enduring a great deal of suffering, we should find in today’s celebration a worthy custom. Let’s keep it in a true and deep spirit of gratitude, not just because it’s an annual tradition or a nice sentiment to express from time to time. Let’s keep it as a reminder of what we are meant to be doing all the time, no matter what may be going on around us: we are made to offer gratitude to Almighty God, who loves and sustains us in being, who promises us grace and joy whenever we ask for it, and who has indeed “remembered mercy,” today and every day.


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