Every father should get to the point when it comes to Thanksgiving Day and acknowledge, even on his knees, what it is that he is almost certainly most thankful for regarding his earthly circumstances: his family. It is no small thing to be thankful for, and being thankful for it ought to be no small thing either.
A family is a unit of culture, and a Catholic family is a unit of Catholic culture. The duty of every Catholic family and every Catholic father is to preserve and reflect the life of the Mystical Body of Christ. The source and summit of this life is, of course, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the perfect prayer and the enactment of the Mystery of Faith—and it is designed around a meal offered on a table. In a similar manner, the family meal and the family table are central to the mystery of the family.
On Thanksgiving Day, fathers and families are invited and challenged to recall this mystery with gratitude and in memory of Him Who gave the family its power and purpose.
A large part in the decline in American culture has been the decline in the American meal. Even Thanksgiving is beset by oppressive schedules, awkward relations, incessant text messages, and the looming obligations of Black Friday. The idea and ethics of dining is deteriorating into a hurried, harried, pre-packaged affair peppered by interruptions and perceived inconveniences. The very expression “fast food” is against the most essential effect of food, a thing born not of haste but of heart.
Just as the Mass is not to be rushed through, neither are meals. The tendency today is not only to eat in a rush, which prevents the enjoyment of a meal and demeans the dignity of food, but also eating alone, which diminishes the sense of fellowship and the call to be thankful.
A Catholic family is like a Catholic church, which is a tremendous point to be thankful for. In the domestic church, as in the parish church, truth and friendship is fostered, assisted by art and ritual, and ordered toward the worship and will of God. Like a parish, a family is a community devoted to each other through Christ and for Christ. Members gather at a table for Holy Communion; members gather at a table for human communion; fathers lead their flock; fathers lead their families; both safeguard community and culture by celebrating a meal.
Breaking bread is a sign of togetherness, for it bestows the natural nourishment of a person’s body and the supernatural nourishment of a body of people. A meal is a ritual: a manifestation of living together in harmony and health. As a life-giving activity, the family meal is the sacrament of the family: a sign and strengthening of the life that flows from labors of love, and merits thanksgiving.
This time of nurture and culture is an opportunity for fathers to affirm their fatherhood in the dynamic of their family. Through smiles, speech, and stories fathers can provide their children with an experience of conviviality. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough, for it is from that same table that an offering is made to God; an offering that can only be made by a family focused on God through focus on one another; an offering of thanksgiving, or eucharistia.
Meals require that thought and that thanks, and thus serve as a way of worship—a celebration of God’s gifts of food, fellowship, and family; a celebration where the work of a woman’s hands is received by her husband and offered on an altar. Every family needs that altar to maintain the health, happiness, and holiness of their little community, their little church. Thanksgiving Day is the feast day of the family, when these spiritual and physical realities are given special prominence, and it behooves fathers to enact the cause and consequence of a true thanksgiving by giving thanks like a Catholic father.
Of course, the ideal is one thing and the reality very often another. As every parent knows, there is seldom anything so unlike the Mass as a family meal. The former is not the chaos-controlling event that the latter frequently is. This contrast between the table and the altar, however, is part of a beautiful hierarchy. Parents strive to be Christ-like, but they are imperfect; and the family meal is a good time to remember that with a smile. Admitting imperfection is the first step in achieving something like perfection.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Thanksgiving is worthy of such exaltation as it completes the triumvirate of prayer: praise, petition, and thanks. Looking to the “Our Father” as the paradigm of prayer, however, it is curious that there is no part in this beloved passage devoted to thanks. Our Lord never gave in this guideline a guide for giving thanks. Praise and petition are clearly prompted, but thanks are not. But the reason for this is given precisely by not giving it at all—thanks cannot be dictated and still be genuine. Thanks are deeply personal, and their expression rests with the receiver. Prayers of thanks arise from heartfelt recognition and appreciation for the grace, the gift, given.
So, fathers, get to the point this Thanksgiving and at every family meal. Take a humorous look at spilled milk, hubbub, and picky eaters. Embrace it all, my fellow Catholic fathers. Laugh at the differences between you as the head of your family and Christ as the Head of His Church. Through this happy humility, get to the point and bow down before the heavenly Father with your family and give thanks to the Lord as an earthly father.
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