By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published November 27, 2008
Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is a simple prayer of only 22 words. Most of us learned it as children, and often we say it habitually without reflecting either on the words or on the reasons that we offer this prayer. It asks the Lord of all Goodness to bless us and to bless the food that his bounty has provided for us. It is perhaps the best-known prayer of grace before meals, and it is distinctively Catholic. This week, it will be spoken often over tables throughout this land of plenty.
Several families have shared with me their plans for this year’s Thanksgiving. One of them will gather with extended family members at their Florida vacation home. Another family will stay here in Atlanta, bringing together several different households of relatives from around North Georgia. Many of you will travel, and just as many of you will host family members from near and far to share this special civic holiday together with hearts filled with gratitude.
Publix supermarkets have aired a televised commercial for the past two years depicting several families at their Thanksgiving tables. The message is one of gratitude, but the gratitude is pretty much free-floating and unfocused.
God is never mentioned—and with reason—Publix is a grocery provider. They sell the products that we use to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. They are not in the market of teaching people how to pray—or to whom our prayer must be addressed. The commercial is touching, clever and humorous, but not religious.
Teaching people how to pray is the work of communities of faith. We are those who must teach children how to pray, and we must share with them the prayers of our religious heritage. And parents are the primary teachers of their children in the ways of faith—as the baptismal ritual reminds them.
We learn to pray by watching and listening to people who pray, the same pattern of learning that little ones follow in so many other areas of life. Our children will learn their prayers from parents and grandparents who take the time to teach them the words and then show them the example of what prayer means in their own lives.
We thank God at this time of year, as the harvest is gathered in and the bounty of the earth gives us reasons to once again acknowledge that we have received disproportionately more than our labors merit.
In our overly secular society that so often seeks to strip away the vestiges of religious faith, a Thanksgiving prayer is unfocused and vague, but to the person of Faith, we know clearly who is the One who has provided the bounty that we enjoy. Children need to learn how to speak to this God of Goodness. Prayers need not be long and complex. They need not to be theologically intricate. They need not be innovative or novel. They simply need to be focused and directed to the One who provides all that we need—about 22 words, more or less, will do nicely!