Our Thanksgiving Holiday

I will be away this weekend in California to join my four children and their families in a rare, “all present” gathering. The Thanksgiving holiday school break makes this possible. While this American Thanksgiving Day is a civilly declared celebration and holiday, and not a Church feast or a religious holiday, the respite of this day-off, this national holiday, certainly provides us with the opportunity and time to turn to our God and prayerfully express our gratitude and thanks for the graces and blessings we have received. And since it is God we are to thank, what better way to begin this day than by attending the most efficacious; the most effective format for thanks and prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; the Eucharist.

If you have not already established a family tradition, of attending a Mass and then extending your involvement, why not begin now (ideally as a family, with children included) to help-out at a soup kitchen in the area, or make a visit to a hospice facility or an assisted living facility. There is no better way to show our thanks to God than by showing Him our love and care for our neighbors (whether they are known or strangers).

In a recent RCIA session, we discussed Catholic social teaching, which calls to mind the profound responsibility that all Catholics have, to care for the poor, the sick, the incarcerated, the lonely and the suffering, both in the world and in our daily lives. And why is that so? Because Jesus continually identified Himself with the poor, the suffering, and the most vulnerable in society. And, in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25, Jesus tells us that the primary criterion, for how God will judge us, will be how we loved and how we cared for others.

Imagine that, at your life’s end, you are going before the judgment seat of God, and you see that Jesus is dividing up the people. And just as Matthew wrote, Jesus is dividing up the people and placing the “Sheep” on his right (those who are righteous) and the “Goats” on his left (the wicked, who are condemned). And then you hear him say to the “Sheep” on the right:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you
welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…
Amen, I say to you whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”
(Matthew 25:35 – 36, 40).

And then you hear Jesus say to the “Goats” on his left:
“Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was
hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave
me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me…
Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me”
(Matthew 25:41 – 43, 45).

We’ve all heard those words of Jesus, over and over, and hopefully, as we continue to mature in our faith,they have taken on a greater and greater degree of pertinence and importance for us. And now we are being drawn by the overwhelming tsunami of “holiday season advertising”, to shop and purchase, and to gift and receive. Let us pray for prudence in our response to this marketing pressure and to include the poor and the vulnerable in our gift-giving. In our home, when I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a time to assess our collection of toys and articles of clothing that were no longer used or worn or to simply select something nice we had, that we could sacrifice for the poor. Again, a wonderful tradition to either continue (or build-in) to your God-focused thanks for our blessings.

Saint Mother Teresa taught that the Gospel message can be summed up in just five words from Jesus:
“You did it to Me.”

With these ideas in mind, I find these wise words of advice from St. Basil the Great, to be quite helpful as a stimulant and a challenge:
“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor: The Acts of Charity that you do not perform are the injustices that you commit.”

As we continue to pray for the Holy Souls of our loved ones who have departed, may God richly bless your Thanksgiving with Peace and Happiness,