November 20, 2007

Death, Thanksgiving, and Fasting.

Yes, I realize that those are three things that really don't seem to go together at all. On Thanksgiving, that nearest holiday, the majority of Americans gather together in family groups, watch football, and pig out like never else (never else? Does that work? Maybe at no other time, but that's too cliche...). Where do death and fasting fit into the picture? Read on, and prepare to have it explained.

Today (the tuesday before Thanksgiving) I attended a funeral mass. My choir director's father suddenly died, so Ms. Bellman invited the lot of us to sing at the funeral which was on the other side of town. Thus, at 10 A.M. I found myself in St. James the Greater preparing for a beautiful funeral mass, with choral pieces and everything. To say that some great thought or beauty struck me during mass would be a lie - it went just about exactly like any other mass, except that it was a funeral two days before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving...a time to give thanks, and someone is taken away from us to Heaven. Doesn't that seem ironic? On the one day of the year people are supposed to thank the Lord for all of their blessings we come together and mourn the passing of one dear to us. This, however, is only ironic on the surface. Christians, and Catholics especially, have an attitude toward death that is materially illogical. Death to a Catholic is not the end, but the beginning. I'm sure everyone has heard this a thousand times, but have you thought about it? Death is not only not the end of life, but it is the beginning of what life was truly meant to be! Our corrupted human existence is transformed into the image that God created us to have, and so we become what we were destined to be all of our existence - joyful, beautiful people who are pleasing in the sight of God. In that sense, death is certainly a cause of thanksgiving.

The second point - fasting. In the shower on Sunday, I spontaneously decided to fast for the three days prior to Thanksgiving - thus no lunch for Ambrose yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Not only am I trying to cut down on the poundage I'll put on Thursday, I'm attempting to find a new meaning to Thanksgiving that I've never seen before.

From one angle, is food as great on a full stomach? If I go straight from one feast to another, my body doesn't want any more food and thus the new food is not as wanted. Therefore, I'll be more thankful for the feast on Thursday if I deprive myself for the three days prior.

But this is not the only purpose, of course. Fasting is a central point to the Christian lifestyle, because it is a form of sacrifice. Sacrifice is something that is also illogical from a material standpoint. We deprive ourselves of something we truly and undeniably need - food. So why is this good? Look to the Cross. Jesus not only made the ultimate sacrifice - himself - he did it completely. He ate nothing from Thursday night until he died. He left none of himself behind, he gave himself so completely that it could almost be said that he gave more of himself than he had.

We as Christians are called not only to be grateful for Christ's sacrifice, but to participate! I am uniting my small sacrifice with Christ's, not so much that it makes his sacrifice greater, but that it sanctifies mine - and sanctifies me (hopefully). That is certainly something to be grateful for. In addition, I offer my paltry sacrifice for my friend Michael, who chose me for his confirmation sponsor (unworthy as I am).

So is this post the summation of the "true meaning of Thanksgiving"? No, and it doesn't pretend to be. But maybe it shined a light on this holiday that some of you haven't seen before. I don't mean to rip you away from your football or anything, but maybe you could put some thought into why they call it "Thanksgiving".


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