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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating?

Adviso! This is one of those epically long posts that might qualify as "Story time with Adoro". It's part rant, part history, part Adoro being Adoro. So settle in with a leg of turkey from your annual sacrifice, some mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean hotdish with French's onions on top, a dinner roll, cranberries and a nice glass of Riesling or Gwertztraminer or maybe a Pinot Noir, because you aren't going anywhere any time soon. Don't say you weren't warned. Even my UK and Australian readers may want to read this one...your ancestors might be involved, too.....

Every single year it happens: we Americans get together and exclaim over cutesy Pilgrim and Indian figures worshiping a cheap plastic squash holding court in the center of the table while we eat great quantities of food and then nap because we can't move our engorged bodies, so besotted are we with triptophan and wine.

Every single year, as we ramp up for this "Holiday", while we use the word "Thanksgiving" officially, the REAL meaning of the day is summed up in popular parlance: "Turkey Day".

Yup. It's all about the Almighty Turkey. As Fr. Charles succinctly observes, we even make sure those who cannot afford one to worship ( uh, I mean roast) have one, or a few, if need be. Not ham. Not chicken. Not roast beef. TURKEY. As the good Father says:

People start to show up at the door of the church to "get their turkey" with a spirit similar to the one that brings out the hordes to "get their ashes" or "get their palms." It cracks me up because turkey is actually very cheap as edible proteins go, and not without hazards and pitfalls when it comes to preparation. It's a symbolic thing, I know, a graced transaction that has more depth of meaning than economic need reveals.

In a thousand years, archaeologists are going to dig into our decaying yet somewhat-preserved belongings and our literature and our celluloid (film) and ascertain that we, as a culture, one day out of the year lose our minds and worship one of the dumbest and most useless animals on the planet.

I remember as a child, a CATHOLIC child, learning in public school about the Puritans who were escaping England in search of "religious freedom". Their biggest enemy: The Big Bad Catholic Church, under the auspices of the Church of England, but was the "Romanists" they hated the most.

These poor innocent people, thanks be to God, arrived on the shores of the New World where they nearly died as a result of their ignorance and complete inability to survive. We all remember the story of Squanto, the nice Indian who taught them about corn.

I still remember decorating a paper bag and making a headband with "feathers" in his honor in school. I loved the "Indian" stuff. The Pilgrim things always seemed lame to me. Maybe it was because they were slandering my religion and I was on to them even before I realized how far their hatred of us went.

But I can certainly say I NEVER knew that it was at the hands of the Catholic Church that the Pilgrims survived...through the intercession of Squanto.

This information isn't contained in popular History. I don't know why. It's one of the BEST stories I've ever read about history, and I read it today, and reproduce it, in part, for you thanks to the good Fr. MacRae, who hails from his unjust imprisonment:

"Before boarding the Mayflower, the Pilgrims were called 'Separatists.' The religious 'persecution' these Puritan Fathers of America came here to flee consisted largely of their wish to expunge the remnants of Catholicism in the established Church of England. Philip Lawler summed this up in his book,The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture" (Encounter Books, 2008) :

“ …the Puritans were campaigning against the lingering traces of Catholicism. Decades of brutal persecution – first under Henry VIII, then under Elizabeth I – had eliminated the Roman Church from English public life in the sixteenth century; the country’s few remaining faithful Catholics had been driven underground. For the Puritans, that was not enough … They were determined to erase any vestigial belief in the sacraments, any deference to an ecclesiastical hierarchy.” (The Faithful Departed, p. 22).

G.K. Chesterton once famously remarked, “In America, they have a feast to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims. Here in England, we should have a feast to celebrate their departure.”

Despite their disdain for Catholicism, it is one of the great ironies of American history that the Mayflower’s Puritan Pilgrims owe their very survival in the New World – indirectly at least – to the Catholic Church.

Are you intrigued? Read on:

In 1614, six years before the arrival of the Mayflower, Captain John Smith (the same man rescued by Pocahontas in another famous tale) led two vessels to the coast of Maine to barter for fish and furs. When Smith departed from the Maine shore, he left a lieutenant, Thomas Hunt, in command to load the smaller ship with dried fish.

Without consultation, Hunt sailed his ship south into what is now called Cape Cod Bay. Anchored off the coast of Patuxet (now Plymouth) in 1614 Hunt and his men invited two dozen native villagers, including Squanto (Tisquantum) aboard their ship. Once aboard, the Indians - as the Europeans came to call them were forced at musket point into the ship's hold where they were chained. Kidnapped from their village and families, Hunt too them on a six-week journey across the Atlantic.

Not all the captured Indians survived the voyage. Those who did survive, Squanto among them, were taken to Malaga off the coast of Spain to be sold as slaves.

Fortunately for Squanto – and, later for our pilgrims – Spain was a Catholic country. In 1537, Pope Paul III issued “Sublimis Dei,” a papal bull forbidding Catholic governments from enslaving or mistreating Indians from the Americas. The Pope declared that Indians are “true men” and could not lawfully be deprived of liberty. The papal document declared that any Spanish intervention in the lives of Indians had to be motivated by benefit to the Indians themselves, and not to the Spanish

As a result, the Catholic Church in Spain strongly opposed mistreatment of Indians and opposed bringing them to Europe against their will At Malaga, Thomas Hunt managed to sell several of his Indian captives before two Catholic priests intervened. The priests seized and rescued the unsold Indians, including Squanto who somehow convinced the Spanish speaking priests to return him home.

Take note of the year: 1537. Note that in the meantime, Mexico was also being colonized by the Spanish, Missionaries were being sent, and note well that the Catholic Church was then and has ALWAYS been against slavery. This information will arise in another post more specific to that topic.

Go to Fr. MacRae's post to read about how Squanto (Tisquantum) found his way back to his Native soil to find his entire tribe dead, and, as the only Native American fluent both in their languages AND in English, convinced the Native leader, Massasoit, in what we now recognize as Plymouth, Massachusetts NOT to kill the Pilgrims, but rather, to allow him to speak for both.

It was because of Squanto that the Pilgrims survived. It was because of the Catholic Church that Squanto survived and returned to save them.

You won't read about that in school. Are you WILLING to read about it NOW and fall on your knees in Thanksgiving for God's Divine Providence? Go back and read the ENTIRE POST Fr. MacRae has to offer.


I don't intend this post to be about the anti-Catholicism of the Pilgrims. Regardless of their hatred of us, of their faulty ideology and their complete ignorance, we owe them a debt of gratitude. These people risked their lives, many lost them, and it is because of them, in part, that this country was born. We owe them thanks for what they did, we should be offering prayers for their souls (because as they don't believe in Purgatory there is no one praying for them but us) and we owe Thanks to God for all He has done to make this country great.

It seems to me, though, in reality, we owe a far greater debt, to the Native Americans than we do the Pilgrims, for it is the Natives of this country who helped our founding families live, when they COULD have allowed them to simply starve to death. Yet, it seems to me that those who were branded as "savages" for so long were far more humane than those they harbored and taught to survive: the pathetic, ignorant, weak, anti-Catholic-to-the-death pilgrims.

Still, I'm not entirely sure that the Native Americans would look upon Squanto as a hero, and sadly, we who are of European descent have never been taught of his entire history and role in our survival. This is a HUGE disservice, both to the Native peoples and to our own ancestry. Can it be surmised that Tisquantum's actual life story is not presented to children or to the larger American audience because of the ties to the Catholics and Catholic ideology that saved him from Protestant slavery? It would be impossible to share his story without discussing what was behind it, and it seems to me it has been very purposefully suppressed. Why else would a nation fail to mention such a fascinating and epic life story of a man who united two worlds?

Such a history from the experience of a REAL hero is quite inconvenient to the romanticism and perfection of our founding Protestant European "saints" isn't it?

Five Kernels of Corn

We have to ask anew, after all this, WHAT, exactly, are we celebrating each year? How can we know if we've forgotten or have NEVER KNOWN our roots? All most of us know is the romanticized comfortable version of the first people to touch the shores of America, which doesn't tend to recognize the people who were already here and who enabled us to survive. It doesn't tend to mention, in the history books, the Hand of God who orchestrated the survival of our ancestors, or the heroic actions of real people like Tisquantum (Squanto) who gave his fiat to God in true charity, on behalf of the most destitute; our ancestors.

Our entire Nation is built upon poverty in every form.

A few years ago, one of my professors gave us a Thanksgiving lecture in the midst of our Scripture class, and I've never forgotten it. I can't forget his passion or the tears in his eyes, or the tears that fell from my own during his lecture. I was deeply moved. It should be mentioned that my professor had been raised and had been a Pastor in a Protestant religion, but had converted to Catholicism, so perhaps had a particular pain in his heart at the disunity and war that has always been present at the heart of America.

I posted this a few years ago but find it necessary to post it here again today, in its entirety. You can find the original here:

Many years ago, a ship set off from Europe, seeking greener pastures, a land of promise. They landed off course in winter, but decided to remain and eke out their new existance, and indeed, there the people settled. Their code was basic; the Lord is your God, and those who do not work shalt not eat.

That winter, food was rationed, and these completely unprepared people were also completely unequipped to battle for survival. Were it not for the intervention of the Native peoples, they all would have perished. During their worst days, all they had to eat, PER DAY, was 5 kernels of corn. Many died that winter.

And yet, they still had to continue working for survival, even under those rations:

Some of them survived, and their new friends taught them how to plant corn and how to survive in this new land. When they had their first bountiful harvest, they celebrated. And it was not for only one day. NO! They celebrated as in Biblcal times...for a week! But they remembered their previous winter, and so to begin, they were each rationed 5 grains of corn, as a reminder. It was a solemn moment. There they were, before a repast fit for Kings and their Courts, and yet, in humility, they remembered their moments of the most abject poverty. They remembered the lives lost, the terrible journey, and the friendship and hard work that enabled their survival.

They knew they owed their very lives to God. And only 5 grains of corn was enough to remind them of their humble positions before their Maker.

Deuteronomy 8: 1-20

1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

DO NOT take the Lord's mercy for granted. Do not make your "Thanksgiving" a moment of self-praise about what YOU have accomplished and built. Remember that the Lord, your God has given you EVERYTHING that you have, to the very air in your lungs. As you sit around the table before a sumptuous repast, remember our forefathers and what they suffered, remember your own moments, if you had them, of absolute poverty, and remember that all you now have is a gift. Invite God into your celebration, and if it so helps, as you offer your Thanksgiving prayers and blessings, set before you 5 grains of corn. And Remember whom you serve, and who it is who holds you in existance...and Praise Him.


Thanksgiving, 2009

My friends, Give thanks to God for what you have received. Remember the humble roots from which you spring. Remember the sacrifices of the pilgrims, the origin of our nation, the importance of our Catholic faith, so ignored and even vilified with regard to the founding of this country. Take pride in who you are as Americans and remember that many martyrs made this country great. Remember the heroism of the Native Peoples who taught our beloved ancestors to survive, recognizing that were it not for them, we would not be who we are.

God bless you all, have a blessed Thanksgiving, and let the five kernels of corn forever remind you of the humility of your roots and the hand of God in your very being in ever single moment.

Give thanks to God...His mercy endures forever!


Anonymous said...

I'm a Canadian so I don't HAVE to be Thankful today but I am and I am thankful for Christ, His Church and good history lessons. God bless and Happy Thanksgiving.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

One of your best posts, Adoro.

You are correct, many activist and radical Natives wish Tisquantum, and any other Natives who helped the "white man" in any way had not done so.

All of those Natives, Tisquantum, Sacagawea, and all the names lost to us over time, who helped the white settlers survive the brutal winters and escape enemies deserve a large portion of credit for founding this Nation.

Even if they were pagans to their death, some of them had a better understanding of what it truly means to be Christian than the most learned among us.

Thanks for the warning up front. I settled in with a cup of cocoa! :-)

Maggie said...

A wonderful post, Adoro. Thanks so much. I knew there was something about Squanto and the Spanish but I couldn't quite articulate the story. Thank you! And have a blessed Advent!