Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. is a celebration of a good country, like the one we read about in Deuteronomy 8. Most of us will sit down to an abundant feast and give thanks before we eat our fill. But few of us will say an after meal prayer. While that tradition exists in Christian communities, it seems to have been lost by mainstream Christians. Perhaps because of my age and also because I grew up in a religiously conservative rural community in Iowa, my religious instruction included after meal prayers. While my family always prayed before meals, we did not, however, practice prayer after meals. Conversations with my fellow Catholics reveal that none of them ever practiced prayer after meals either. Yet, a Google search finds after meal prayers to be part of Catholic culture and there is even an on-going on-line discussion about why this practice should be part of our daily lives. I would like to further that discussion in this reflection of the Scriptures on this Thanksgiving Day.
First of all, it is Biblical. It says in Deuteronomy 8 that we are to bless the Lord our God for the good country he has given us after we have eaten our fill, lest we forget that it is God who gives us the power to acquire all of our blessings and not our own power. Psalms 113 exhorts us to praise the name of the Lord, for it is the Lord who has the power to raise the needy from the dust and seats the poor with princes. So on Thanksgiving Day, we remember that it is the Lord who sets the feast before us….(even though most of also will rightly give thanks for the women and men who worked to make it possible). The focus should not be, however, on how lavish is the feast, but that we owe everything to God. I Timothy reminds us that to pursue pride through our wealth is a foolish trap. Relying on what we have accomplished rather than on the goodness of God is still the sin of the present age. Jesus repeats this message in Luke 12. A bountiful harvest can make us rich. And riches can make us greedy when we think that the treasures we have stored up for ourselves are ours. Such thinking brings us many pains, we read in I Timothy. Even though God gives us many gifts for our enjoyment, we must remember that it all belongs to God.
The prayer after meals tradition gives thanks for not only our material gifts, but the spiritual riches which enable us to be generous to others. Thanksgiving Day would seem like a good time for us to cultivate a renewal of that prayer tradition in our lives. It is a constant struggle for most of us to cultivate the virtue of independence from material goods and to dedicate ourselves wholly to God. When we share with others from our material riches, we are investing in our relationship with God and our eternal future. A prayer can help keep us focused on these intentions. Internet discussions of the Catholic tradition of prayer after meals reveals that these prayers should be used to keep us mindful of the presence of the risen Lord in the blessing of food and also the needs of the poor. From this website I found several examples of after meal prayers. I blended parts of two of them to produce the following prayer that I plan to use on Thanksgiving Day. I hope it will be useful to others who wish to return this tradition to their daily prayer life.
Lord, you have fed us from your gifts and favors; fill us with your mercy, give all people the food they need, so that they may join us in giving you thanks, for you live and reign forever and ever. Amen.