Giving Back

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In my reflection of November on Thursday, I talked a bit about gratitude. Today, while many are going to enjoy fall activities of seeing families, playing or watching football, catching up on reading, applepicking, and other fall favorites, and getting ready for Thanksgiving, I will be at my church, and have been since about seven-thirty in the morning for our second annual morning of service.

At last count, we have over three hundred volunteers who will be helping out at nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity, the local city mission, day cares, and creating projects at the church to be given out to a variety of places like Ronald McDonald House, Operation Christmas Child, and other local charities.

There are many ways that we all give back for what we are lucky enough to have. We donate clothes, food, money, and time in all kinds of ways.

One organization that has helped my family and many, many others is the St. Vincent de Paul Society with the Catholic Church. If you want to donate money, time, or items, contact your local  Catholic Church, and ask them how.

A second organization that comes highly recommended to me is Catholic Charities.

In many cases, you do not have to be Catholic to utilize their services, and you most definitely do not need to be Catholic to donate to them.

My favorite group to help and support is Random Acts. They are the epitome of teaching that each of us can do a little, and it all adds up. Small gestures mean big things to many.

This year, in particular, I would recommend Hispanic Federation. They take care of all kinds of needs, but especially this year, they are doing important work for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Help them if you can.

And if you can’t help these groups directly, please share their names and contact information on your social media accounts so that others may help if they are able.

Thank you for all that you do.

A Thanksgiving Reflection

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Cornucopia. Colored Pencils. (c)2016

Today is the first Thanksgiving Mass that I will be able to attend. I’ve looked forward to it. There is a tradition at my parish to bring a non-perishable food item to donate. 

At the time of the offering, instead of passing a basket around the pews for a monetary collection, parishioners process to the altar and leave food items. It was a really profound experience, everyone giving what they could, wishing the others a Happy Thanksgiving when they passed one another.

At the end of the Mass, each family was given a small loaf of bread to bring to mind the Eucharist we had just received to share with our families. Breaking bread is a tradition followed by nearly every culture across the globe.


Our parish has a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society who collect food for Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for those that request them. They also provide Christmas gifts to those less fortunate so that the kids will still have a memorable holiday. They also work throughout the year. They ask for nothing in return. My son and I volunteered one year to help load the Thanksgiving boxes/baskets and it was an exuberant, lively, joyous crowd, bending and lifting, filling boxes and organizing food and household items like paper towels and toilet paper. One of the things that amazes me when I see the men and women volunteering for the Society is the compassion and positivity they come to their ministry with.
I am still surprised when I do something for someone else with no expectation of reward, although every time I’ve volunteered or done something extra or special, I have received a reward: a smile, a thank you, but most importantly, a swelling of my soul that feels so much better than receiving a gift myself.

We all want acknowledgment for our good deeds. It doesn’t have to be much; a simple thank you or smile will suffice. But seeing a child with a huge smile as they receive a winter coat or a pair of boots or sneakers. An extra pudding or lollipop. Bright eyes shining with joy.

During the homily, which was of course very G-d centered, it made me recall the first thanksgiving. Not the holiday proclaimed by President Lincoln, but the very first one. While both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had their beliefs and would have expresed their gratitude to, there was also much more to that day and fall season for them. Today should be a reminder of that cooperation, the beginning of that friendship. The Native people welcomed the new immigrants, refugees even, from religious persecution. There was the language barrier and the difference in customs, but they muddled through.

And we can all muddle through with the challenges we’ve been given and thankful for the blessings we receive.

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to look around and smell the flowers. Take a little extra moment to look at your family as they’re playing with cousins, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, taking a hike or playing in the snow, and sitting around the table, passing dishes that we’ve eaten every year since forever in our families.

I make my friend’s sweet potato pie or a sweet potato casserole.

I make my grandmother’s green bean casserole, which is really French’s recipe. My grandmother always made it without milk to keep it kosher in her house.

We rely on 1950s convenience: Heinz gravy, DelMonte French style green beans, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. We make mashed potatoes from scratch, but my mother used to use a box mix of potato flakes. My sister’s husband would only eat mashed from scratch. He never noticed the difference. (I’d leave a few lumps in it for him.)

Think about what you’re grateful for and try to remember it the rest of the year. One way is with a gratitude journal. Or a jar to add slips of paper to for the year. I did this one year, and it was a joy to sit on New Year’s Eve and read through that last year of good moments. Whatever you come up with, find something that works for you and your life.

This year had some really difficult times for our family, and we’re still struggling with them: my mother-in-law’s death this summer and the election of Donald Trump as our new president, at best a wariness as we wait to see how his administration forms. I already have some issues, but this is not the forum. Suffice it to say, we are all waiting to see where we go from here, and we should all be praying for our next president and our country. I would encourage that to be the first thing we do.

If I learned anything from this past Year of Mercy, it is that mercy is everywhere; we just need to simply accept it when it’s given or found.

For my part in being aware of my blessings and my gratitude, I will be planning on incorporating a gratefullness to a weekly writing blurb.

In the meantime, I look to my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, and my support network to continue moving forward in my writing and my life.

I will spend tomorrow being grateful for what I have and how far I’ve come.

Bless you all on this day of thanks.

6/8 – Year of Mercy – Service

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In two weeks, the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy will conclude with the closing of the Holy Doors across the world, including at my home parish, and so this is a time to think back, to reflect on the past year, and what it meant to me personally.

In addition to the several things I’ve done or experienced in the past year, one of the ways to be a part of the year of mercy is by doing merciful acts.

In the Catholic Church, there are seven Corporal Works of Mercy:

1. Feed the hungry

2. Give drink to the thirsty

3. Clothe the naked

4. Shelter the homeless

5. Comfort the sick

6. Visit the prisoners

7. Bury the dead

Earlier in the year, I was asked to volunteer for a ministry, a committee to plan and implement our church’s first Morning of Service, where our parishoners come together on and off site to do volunteer works along the lines of those corporal works. Our day of service was held yesterday to great success.

We had over two hundred people offer their services and dozens more donate items. There were groups making pet beds, rosaries, Welcome Bags for the Ronald McDonald House, visiting nursing homes, painting community rooms, building homes for Habitat for Humanity and a plethora of other works that look small and insignificant until you put them all together and see how they impact those on the receiving end.

In my short time with this parish, I have seen so many giving so much in the name of service. It astounded me at first, but now it makes me happy to be part of such a giving group as this. I continue to try and do my part to varying degrees and varying amounts of success, but I try, and that is most important.

I can’t express the feelings granted from giving. It is overwhelming and almost too much. It defies description.

While next year, there will be no jubilee, no Year of Mercy, what was begun this last year by Pope Francis and taken on by parishoners all across the world will continue through our committees, our ministries, and our parishoners.

Once the step forward is taken, it cannot be taken back.

Should a Day of Service Be Used to Evangelize?

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I know several of my readers are religious and I’m kind of curious what people think. I’m part of a committee with my church to organize and hold a parish wide day of service. We were discussing our mission and our “slogan” (for lack of a better word), and one person objected to not including Jesus in the promotional materials and our language of introduction when we go on these service opportunities.

I objected to that overt evangelizing once we get to the service location. The locations are places like soup kitchens, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.

His main point was that we’re doing this in service to Christ and walking in his steps, and we should be expressing that to the people we’re volunteering with.

I obviously don’t believe we should ignore the fact that we are coming from the church. And expressing Jesus’ influence and mission as part of our recruiting of parishioners to volunteer is clearly appropriate. I also don’t have a problem with telling the people we’re working with that we are with the church and this is our day of service, that we’re volunteers and we’re excited to be there and even that our faith influenced our volunteering for service.

I do think, however that there’s a difference between evangelizing and serving and we need to be aware of what our mission is as a volunteer and follower of Jesus.

Our mission as volunteers is to walk Christ’s path.

That may not the expectation or interest of the random person we’re working with whom we’ve never met before.

I’m not suggesting hiding our Catholicism or that we are doing this as part of our works of mercy, and I’m not even afraid of offending people, which is the word my acquaintance used. It’s not about offending or not offending.

It’s about respecting.

I think that the majority of people we’ll be encountering will be at-risk, whether they’re kids or elderly, poor or other marginalized groups, and they shouldn’t feel blackmailed into being prosthelytized to just to get a special service. Or to feel that if they don’t listen to the Jesus time-share lecture, they shouldn’t participate.

For anyone who’s ever experienced that (and I have been on the receiving end of condescension of my own faith and the hard sell that I was following the wrong religion). It’s a turn off. More than that, it’s not just offensive, it’s painful to be on that side, to be the other.

Maybe I’m being overprotective of a group that doesn’t exist in this case, but I really do think it’s more important to be there in the moment and not worry about giving the message of Jesus. Our being there doing Jesus’ works is sending the only message we should be concerned about; the tangible message of helping our neighbors, of service with mercy and humility. That includes letting our actions dictate our works, and not our words.

I think we need to take into account the diverse nature of these types of places and include everyone without excluding anyone.