Many people are unaware of the fact that the word Eucharist means Thanksgiving. Based on the ecclesiastical Greek eukharistia ‘thanksgiving,’ and coming from the Greek eukharistos ‘grateful,’ it is a combination of eu “well” and, kharizesthai “offer graciously.” Fundamentally then, to celebrate the Eucharist is to give thanks.
Which is why it seemed so appropriate for us to begin our Thanksgiving celebration by going to Mass. It was a great service. I especially enjoyed Fr. Legerski’s homily and his reminder to us that it is far more important to keep our focus on who we are grateful to rather than just on what we are grateful for. In other words we should be grateful for not just the gifts that we receive, but even more so for Giver of all good gifts.
“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”1
The First Thanksgiving
Most people are at least generally aware of the “first” Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims, who having landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, endured many hardships before being befriended by Native Americans. This native intervention has commonly been attributed to divine providence as it is doubtful whether the Pilgrims would have long survived without the aid of their Indian friends.
After surviving their first year, and in celebration of their first successful harvest in the New World, they celebrated a Thanksgiving feast with their Native American friends in the autumn of 1621.
What most people are generally unaware of is story of the Indian who came to their aid, a man named Tisquantum, but commonly called Squanto.
Squanto’s story actually intersects with that of another rather well known historical figure, John Smith. It was actually Thomas Hunt, Smith’s renegade subordinate, who had kidnapped Squanto with more than a score of his fellows, taking them across the seas to Spain to be sold into slavery.
“In fact, Hunt managed to sell only a few of his captives before local Roman Catholic priests seized the rest—the Spanish Church vehemently opposed brutality toward Indians. (In 1537 Pope Paul III had proclaimed [in a papal bull entitled Sublimis Dei] that “Indians themselves indeed are true men” and should not be “deprived of their liberty” and “reduced to our service like brute animals.”) The priests intended to save both Tisquantum’s [Squanto’s] body, by preventing his enslavement, and his soul, by converting him to Christianity,”2
His story back to the New World would take more time than I wish to devote to it here, but suffice it to say he returned to his homeland a baptized Catholic who was also fluent in English.
Divine Providence at Work
While the Pilgrims certainly saw divine providence at work in Squanto’s aid, they may not have realized to just what lengths God had been involved in Squanto’s kidnapping, miraculous release from slavery, conversion, and lengthy return to his home in America – a journey that was fraught with it’s own dangers and difficulties.
“Without Squanto – and, indirectly at least, the Pope and some Jesuit priests – the fate of the Puritan Pilgrims would have been vastly different, and Thanksgiving would likely have never taken place. Squanto was, as Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation wrote of him,”
“A spetiall [sic] instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations.”3
It’s appropriate on this day to look back to that first Thanksgiving and acknowledge God’s hand at work, both then and now. To offer thanks not just for what we have, but also from whom we have it. To pause and give praise to the giver of all good gifts; but most importantly to thank the One who was willing to give His only Son.
Much like the Pilgrims of old, we lack the skills necessary to survive this life and enter into the next without the help of a divine emissary. Without Christ we are poor, afraid, and alone – starving and dying without aid. And yet He came, speaking our language, living amongst us, and showing us a better way.
A Eucharistic Thanksgiving
Truly the greatest gift we have been given is Christ Himself. And at every Mass we receive Christ Himself fed to us in the Word and in the Eucharist – a true Thanksgiving meal! To partake of our Lord, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist is “comfort” food indeed – food for our very souls.
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”4 ~ Jesus
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