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A Thanksgiving Day Reflection on the Goodness of America
By Michael Terheyden
November 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Through the intercession of our nation's saints, we pray for the protection and well being of America. This is God's country. Let us give God the thanks He is due this Thanksgiving Day, and everyday, by living as His true children. May God bless America!KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - The faded photograph I have used for this article was taken by my mother and father on my first Thanksgiving Day about 60 years ago. It reminds me of their wonderful sense of humor, their deep faith and their goodness. It also reminds me of two earlier Thanksgiving Day celebrations and how much our country has changed over the years.
The "First Thanksgiving Day" was celebrated by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in the early 1600's. Although they were accustomed to thanksgiving celebrations (days of prayer), the specific purpose of the "First Thanksgiving Day" was to thank God for helping them survive their first New England winter. However, the first time Thanksgiving Day was celebrated as a national holiday was about 240 years later when President Abraham Lincoln gave it official recognition in 1863.
During his proclamation address Lincoln said, "It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gracious gifts of the Most High God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens . . . 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."
So much has changed since then. Today, some people want to suppress the religious significance associated with Thanksgiving Day, and the role of religion in our society. In addition, some people want to suppress the truth about America's goodness. We see evidence of this in the media and in many schools where our children are being taught that America is a bad country. But this Thanksgiving my thoughts are about the goodness that made this country great.
It is right for us to admit our failures, but much of the criticism toward America is exaggerated or untrue. While Americans have made mistakes and done some things that were wrong, America has been a powerful force for good within its borders and throughout the world since its inception. There are many examples. I will mention a few that have special meaning for me.
The Founding Fathers of our country have had their reputations and accomplishments dragged through the mud in recent years; however, I believe they gave us a system of government that unleashed freedom upon the citizens of this nation unlike anything ever done before. And this system was grounded in an accurate understanding of human nature. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) "Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude" (#1731).
This unique system was "cemented" in the Constitution of the United States. Although not perfect, I believe that our Constitution is the greatest political document ever written. But even greater than our system of government is the American understanding that the rights of the people are of divine origin, that is, from God not man. We read in the Declaration of Independence ". . . that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
This accomplishment, which took centuries to achieve, was great because it reflected a fundamental truth about human society. The Catechism says, "There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves. . . " (#1878). We need society. It is a function of our nature as human persons. We develop our potential through social exchange, dialogue and service with each other.
However, socialization can threaten personal freedom and initiative due to excessive intervention by the state. The principle of subsidiarity says that ". . . a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it. . ." (CCC #1883). Even though limited and imperfect, the separation of powers within our federal government depicted in our Constitution and the autonomy of the states are an amazing application of the principle of subsidiarity.
America has also extended its goodness around the world in ways unlike any other country. There are many outstanding examples of American goodwill toward its international neighbors. For instance, America has given an unprecedented amount of aid to over 100 countries in the world. This aid has been in the form of technical, material and financial assistance. By far, most of America's financial assistance has been in the form of outright gifts. America has even shown incomparable Christian goodwill to its former enemies.
After World War II, Germany and Japan were reduced to rubble. We helped them institute democratic governments and sweeping social and economic reforms. For instance, in Japan under General MacArthur's leadership, the status of the emperor's divine origin was rejected, and civil liberties similar to our own were granted to the people. Today, both Germany and Japan are free and sovereign. They are also world powers and respected members of the international community.
As an American Catholic, I am proud that Catholics have been an important part of this great nation from its beginning. The colonization of America followed its discovery by a Catholic, Christopher Columbus, whose expedition was financed by Catholic Spain. Then came the Spanish missionaries. However, it was European Protestants who colonized and forged the original thirteen colonies into one nation. But two Catholics, Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimmons, were members of the Continental Congress and helped frame our Constitution.
Catholics also contributed to America by establishing schools and promoting first rate education. Saint John Neumann is especially noted for this. He is the first Bishop to organize a Catholic school system in this country. He is credited with building approximately 100 schools throughout the Diocese of Philadelphia. Catholics have also built the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the country. And Catholic Charities is one of the largest and most trusted nonprofit providers of social services in America.
In the early days, Catholics only constituted a small percentage of the population. Our population increased through the acquisition of territories from Catholic Spain, Mexico and France. Then there was an explosion of growth in the 19th and 20th centuries due to the immigration of German, Irish and Hispanic Catholics. Today, Catholics are the largest single religious denomination in the country, almost 22 percent of the population, and America has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world. And Catholics occupy leadership positions in just about every field of endeavor imaginable.
Plus we have a growing list of American saints: Frances Xavier Cabrini, Jean de Lalande, Damien De Veuster, Katharine Drexel, Rose Philippine Duchesne, René Goupil, Mother Théodore Guérin, Isaac Jogues, John Neumann, and Elizabeth Ann Seton. However, given the negative changes that are occurring in our country today, I suspect that Catholics' greatest role in American life is yet to come.
The people who believe that America is a bad country, for all practical purposes, are now in control of its government. And they are causing greater harm to the American people than our worst enemies through their corrupt and immoral policies and their abusive use of the state's police power. Consequently, America is no longer the land of the free, and the American people no longer live in peace.
Thanks to people like the Pilgrims, Abraham Lincoln, and my mother and father, I believe the America I was born into is worth fighting and dying for. But how do we do that? There is no one answer, but as Catholics we believe where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20), and this is where we can start.
Catholicism is graced with an abundance of truth. For instance, it sees order, beauty, goodness, meaning, and purpose in creation. It sees all these things, and more, rooted in an all-powerful, all-good, all-loving God. It also sees a glorious destiny for the children of God, which begins in this life when we are united with our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Catholics can offer these truths to our nation and help move America toward greater justice and blessings now and in the years to come.
Through the intercession of our nation's saints, we pray for the protection and well being of America. This is God's country. Let us give Him the thanks He is due this day, and everyday, by living as His true children. May God bless America!
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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