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.

8/8 –  Year of Mercy

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On this last Sunday of he Year of Mercy, I look forward to the next year as I try to continue with ther merciful acts that I did in this past year. Not only the acts of mercy done for others, but for me as well. One of the lectures I went to last year was how to bring mercy into my own life, and to give myself mercy. We are our own worst critics after all.

In addition to today being the last day of the Year of Mercy, it is also the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the Catholic Year. Advent begins next week as we wait for the Nativity and the birth of Jesus.

As long as this year was, allowing me to cross the threshold of the holy door and visit shrines, take a variety of one day pilgrimages, pray and meditate on mercy and moving forward with myself in all the ways that I want to move forward, it also went very quickly. I was less concerned with the plenary indulgences as I was with giving myself a gift of myself.

From Pope Francis’ Instagram today:

“Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us.”

Insta – Morning of Service

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A glimpse of my parish’s Morning of Service in conjunction with the Pope’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. Top left, clockwise: Room assignments, Information/Registration table, sample rosary bracelet (which was one of the projects), worship aid for our prayer service prior to the volunteering, Fr. J during the worship service, our volunteers at the service. In the center: Magnet for all participants. (c)2016

After months of planning, my parish’s Morning of Service was finally held on November 5, 2016. We had over two hundred fifty live bodies to work on projects for a variety of community organizations, both off-site and on-site at the parish. In addition, there were dozens more who donated items and money to complete the projects.

We will meet in January to discuss how things went (fabulously) and make preliminary plans for next year’s Service Day.

I was at the information table for the morning, and I will tell you that when people left they were just as happy as when they arrived. No complaints about the early day, smiles on faces throughout the day, all ages. It was wonderful to see it in real time how this affected the volunteers in such a positive way.

It was one of the most fulfilling days I have had the pleasure to spend, and I can’t wait to continue to offer ideas for the next one and participate.

7/8 – Year of Mercy: Reconcilation

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​On this, the second to last weekend of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I had scheduled my topic as reconciliation. I wasn’t sure quite what I was going to write about, but there the word said in my planner:

Nov. 13 – 7/8 Reconciliation

It kept getting pushed back and I wondered why. It seems G-d had other plans for this post, which is good because the act of reconciliation, of confession, is still not an easy one for me. I just don’t know how to do it or what counts. Do I ask forgiveness for cursing when I will continue to curse? I don’t know. Perhaps one day it will come to me. My priest is a very patient man.

Today, however isn’t about the Catholic rite of reconciliation, but of reconciling two sides, two passions, two opposites that must come together now or risk tearing it apart forever. Finding mercy for ourselves and for others.

Almost one week ago, on Tuesday, I went from thrilled to happy and excited to numb. When I went to bed at 2:30am nothing was decided, but I knew. The outcome was clear.

What I didn’t know was if I could face the morning of Wednesday. How would I explain this new world to my daughter? Even my son was worried before bed and I reassured him not to worry; that Donald Trump would not become our president. Our country was too strong for that.

As I said earlier today, this isn’t about my candidate losing. It’s about what we allowed to happen over the last fifteen months. Journalists can never give a pass again.

But right now, in the aftermath of an election where in reality apathy won, it is time to stop and breathe and reconcile.

Regardless of where we stand on any one issue, we still must work together. We still must move forward. Together. We don’t have to like our president – Republicans proved that for the last eight years, but we do need to work with him and I can promise you that we will work more cooperatively with him than his party worked with the last president. Cooperation and not obstruction. Maybe we can teach them a thing or two about humanity and grace and dignity. We will stand up for what’s right.

We will reconcile our feelings, our emotions and make sure that we are all on the side of ALL Americans no matter their party or race or religion or gender or any of the other things that make us individuals.

We are all in this together and we can be the example that we talk about setting for our children and our neighbors and our friends.

I have faith in us.

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.

5/8 – Year of Mercy – Intentions

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It always amuses me when things do not go as planned but still they go, and then it’s okay or even better.

I arrived this monring at church intent on writing for about half an hour or so. Instead, I spied the holy door and my intent changed to going through the holy door first, one more time. I prayed the prayer that Pope Francis provided for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. I prayed the prayer on the door, and I entered. I was greeted with sounds of the choir practicing. Acapella. Beautiful. The church was still dim, lights not on yet; only natural light filtering through the skylight and the stained glass. It reminded me of my first few days visiting the church.

Before I could take my seat to write before the mass began, I was stopped by a good friend. She was telling me how she and her husband started watching The Walking Dead. They started with season one and are a few episodes into season two and they love it. This made me smile. It shows me not to make assumptions. I would never have recommended that she watch it but so glad she enjoys it.

I was also stopped by my morning of service committee chairperson to tell me I was on my own at the registration table next week. Instead of my usual dread of such a thing, the change, the unexpected, I was not only relieved but thankful I’d volunteered for the registration in the front place.

Mercy and gratitude are everywhere.

You don’t even need to look very far to discover it.

4/8 – Making Time for G-d

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​Entrance Antiphon

To you I call; for you will surely heed me, O God; turn your ear to me; hear my words. Guard me as the apple of your eye; in the shadow of your wings protect me. Cf. Ps 17 (16):6, 8

Luke 18:1-8 

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary [1]. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

[1] Emphasis mine.
In my priest’s homily on this most recent Sunday, he asked for us to make time for G-d in our daily lives. Like the widow in going to the dishonest judge, we should go to G-d with a consistency and persistency that can’t be ignored, but more than that, our consistency and persistency isn’t only for G-d to hear, but for us to project.

Looking at our everyday lives, some weeks, and days, it’s easier to find time for G-d, but how often do we make time for G-d?

Some weeks have a built in time and space for G-d and for our prayer and meditation. For me, this week, I have three times already built in. Sunday’s weekly mass, Monday’s anointing or healing mass, and Tuesday night’s Living Rosary.

As I write this, it is after that night of the Living Rosary. I went last year as well, and it is a very beautiful event. It is 56 people holding candles in a circle reciting the rosary. I sat down, said hello to my Sunday seatmate who was also there when one of the choir came over and asked if I wanted to participate. Um…no. I blinked and turned around. “What exactly would. I need to do?” That is how I became a Hail Mary bead and part of the living rosary. I will probably volunteer next year.

It’s not just time for G-d, but keeping an open heart when He calls us to Him.

What other ways can I make the time to include G-d in my day?

One way is this piece of writing. I have four more after this post until we reach the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee Yea of Mercy. I will continue to think about mercy and meditate on the past year, but in these next five posts (including this one) I have a weekly session thinking about G-d’s mercy and love.

I can choose two days at home to pray the rosary. This month is the month of the rosary, a time that we can feel closer to Mary and consequently her son and His Father.

Looking out of the window at the brightness of the leaves, holding tight to the branches even in the breeze; the reds and oranges glowing like fire, the ones that have fallen spreading a carpet across the front yard. How can I not think of G-d in those simple moments?

He is all around me, and the more consistently that I think on Him, search for Him, and see Him in all the spaces that I inhabit, the more persistently He comes to me and spreads his mercy on my like a blanket of leaves, nature and warmth and His love.