Giving Thanks for the Hard Things in Life
Copyright Catholic Home and Garden 2006
Please email for permission to reprint
"Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (Thess. 5:18)
As November draws to a close, nearly everyone looks with anticipation to the Thanksgiving Day feast. Families and friends gather around tables bursting with good food, a signal that the season of winter Holy Days is about to begin.
There are plenty of websites that will offer tips for decorating, entertaining and more recipes for turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing than you will ever be able to use in this life. They are delightful and a lot of fun and we'll even offer a list of them for you to explore.
We invite you to give consideration to another aspect of Thanksgiving -- a Catholic perspective.
On Thanksgiving Day, many Catholic will attend Mass, although it is not a Holy Day. It is a day when the secular culture and the Church meet. Over 400 years after the first Thanksgiving, the missals used in Roman Catholic parishes throughout the United States now present special readings for Thanksgiving Day. In some parishes, processions of children dressed as Pilgrims and Native Americans will be incorporated into the liturgy.
This year there are growing similarities between the plight of the Pilgrims and that of modern Americans. They gave thanks for having enough food, shelter and warmth to get through the winter - considerations that are now weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of many in our nation as jobs and pensions disappear.
Give Thanks for the Church in America
This Thanksgiving, we invite you to give thanks for the Gift of the Catholic Church in America. While there are certainly problems in the American Church, we as Catholics take a lot for granted. Pray for the suffering Church, particularly in India where modern day martyrs are all too common.
One good friend of ours often experiences Sunday without the Mass.
It's not because she and her family don't go to Church. The issue is the lack of a priest to offer the Mass. She doesn't live in the outback, or on a remote island in Micronesia. She lives in Western Canada. They don't live in a cabin in a remote wilderness area. They live in a thriving municipality, but their parish is considered a mission, so if the Priest assigned to minister to them has another obligation, they have to make do with a lay minister and a Eucharistic service.
Think about that.
Give thanks to God for the Church in your community.
Give thanks for your pastor.
Even if you don't like him.
Especially if you don't like him.
Give Thanks for the Suffering Church in America.
The truth is that many Catholics in America suffer. Some suffer from the effects of a too-liberal interpretation of the documents of Vatican II which have resulted in a wide variety of liturgical abuses.
Others suffer in the knowledge that so many of our Priests have fallen to the temptations of this secular, not-so-holy world, a few in worse ways than others.
Still others suffer from a lack of catechesis and unbridled feminist agendas in the Church leading them to truly believe that there is grave injustice in the lack of a female priesthood and deaconate, and even in the rejection of same sex marriages.
There are many forms of suffering among the laity, and certainly among the clergy and religious as well.
A question: when we assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the true unbloody Sacrifice identical to the humiliation and scandal of Calvary - the purest offering of Love ever to have taken place, can we expect, as Catholics, that we are exempt from the suffering of the Cross?
Let us each take our biases, our notions, whether misguided or not, and accept that the burden of what we may carry in our hearts and minds is our cross to bear. Give thanks for the suffering of the Church. Give thanks that we care enough to suffer.
It is ironic that we, as Catholics, have embraced the journey of the early Protestants who fled to America to escape religious persecution only to practice persecution of Catholics and others in a more vicious manner than they had ever experienced.
John Francis Maguire in 1868 wrote:
The Puritans of New England outdid, in their fierce intolerance, those whose milder tyranny had compelled them to seek relief in exile. The contrast offered by the different policy pursued by Catholic and Puritan colonists should put to shame those who are so lavish in their accusations of Catholic persecution. When the Catholics had power or influence, they proclaimed the broadest toleration, the fullest liberty to every sect of Christians; while, on the contrary, not only were Catholics in a special degree the objects of persecution in every colony, and by every governor or legislature, but the zealots who persecuted them did not refrain from persecuting people of other denominations. We may refer to the conduct of the Catholic settlers of Maryland, and of the Catholics during the only time they ever possessed any influence in the State of New York, and contrast their enlightened policy with the laws against Quakers and Catholics--the latter of which laws were not erased from the statute-book until after America had accomplished her independence. Read more
The persecution of Catholics is far from over.
In some parts of the world, being a Catholic, particularly a Priest or Religious Nun, is the equivalent of a formal death sentence, or at best, imprisonment. Christians in India are being slaughtered almost daily. In China, the Catholic Church is illegal.
In other, more "civilized" circles, Catholics who hold fast to the entirety of Church teaching are also persecuted in any number of ways. Anti-Catholicism is rampant in America. Give thanks for those who are willing to take up the cross of truth and to give their lives or, at the very least, their reputations up for the love of Christ.
Give Thanks for Illness and Physical Suffering
If we are able to accept that all things come from God, and that He is incapable of giving us anything that is not for the good of our souls, we have come a long way.
While He walked the earth, Our Lord cured many who suffered with physical ailments and took pity on them. In turn we know that by imitating Him, we attain sanctity. The Lives of the Saints teach us that it is in physical suffering that we are able to bind ourselves more closely to God.
Even the little sufferings of a weary body are not without merit if we offer them in love to the One who made us. St. Therese, whose illness prevented her from fulfilling her desire to serve in the mission fields would offer her weariness to alleviate the toil of those who were able to directly serve in that manner.
Many Saints, whether they suffered the stigmata or more ordinary illnesses offered them for the salvation of souls, a heroic sacrifice for the greater glory of God. Don't waste your suffering. The phrase "offer it up" has more depth than we can begin to imagine. Give thanks today for your physical suffering.
Give Thanks for Financial Setbacks Precarity is a gift from God
What is precarity? In the conventional sense, it is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. In the spiritual sense, it is the complete dependence on God's Will for us.
When we are comfortable and enjoying material welfare, it is the rare individual who truly gives thanks to God. In fact, the business of acquiring wealth, taking care of our possessions, updating them, accessorizing them, attending the functions that go with certain stations in life -- all of these take up so much time that we have little left for God.
When we have little -- or don't know where the next influx of needed funds is coming from -- it is then that we turn to God. It is easy to say, "Oh, God, give me a good high paying job," or "Please Lord, let me win the lottery so I can buy a house." It is less easy to say, "Lord, You know what my material needs are. You know what is best for the salvation of my eternal soul. I surrender to Your Holy Will. I trust in You." It is the latter prayer, we think, that is the one most pleasing to Him.
This year in the face of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, many are jobless. While some of these individuals are on the lower end of the economic spectrum and are accustomed to a level of precarity, there are many more on the other end of the spectrum for whom this is a shocking new reality. Give thanks that more will be drawn to prayer for their basic needs.
Give thanks to God for your financial setbacks because they will draw you closer to Him.
Give Thanks for the Death of a Loved One
What a harsh concept this is. Your heart is broken. A death that has come suddenly, unjustly, too early in life, perhaps the death of a child.
How can you possibly give thanks?
If we trust in God completely and have faith that whatever He permits is for the good of our souls, then we must rejoice in the death of a loved one. Particularly of a child or young person. Death comes to each of us. How many days will we have on this earth? Will I die in middle age? As an octogenarian? Perhaps I will die as soon as I am born.
God alone knows the number of our days. He created each of us as an act of incredible love. He treasures each soul as though it were the only one He created. It follows that God also knows how many days are needed for each soul to reach salvation. For some of us, that means a very long life. Perhaps these are the ones who are slow learners, or to whom He has given the task of touching the hearts of many in long decades of service. For others, it may mean snipping the golden cord very early in life. He alone knows whether a child might wander down a dangerous path later in life -- one from which he or she might not emerge with his or her soul intact.
In His infinite wisdom, He knows the exact number of days, of hours, that we each need to be drawn up into His Eternal Heart. This life is passing. Eternity is forever. Give thanks that God has loved the one that you also have loved and that in His Charity, has gathered up that soul.
NOTE: A New York Times editorial (Let Us Pray for Wealth, 11/03/07) cites a global survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be religious. Pew found that there is “a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status.” The poorer a country, the more “religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.” Catholic Home and Garden bases our own conclusions on hundreds of visits to estate sales where we have noted, with rare exception, that the more opulent the estate, the less likely we are to find evidence of any Catholic religious devotional objects and conversely in the most modest homes they are likely to appear in abundance.
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The Word of God
No matter what you serve at your Thanksgiving Day meal think about consciously setting aside a few moments to share a reading from Scripture at the dinner table - perhaps after the main meal has been served and everyone is enjoying coffee.
Make a Thanksgiving Tree
In our family, I was always the slightly "off-kilter" creative person. This was one idea that had everyone groaning, "Oh, no. Now what is she up to!" But when this centerpiece was missing one year, they all complained!
The Idea: Create a center piece resembling a tree. Use cut out leaves as a place mark with each person's name written on the leaf - leaving room for each person to write something he or she is thankful for. On the back - hidden until later - write out a Bible verse and let the Grace of God speak to that soul through scripture.
Directions: Find a small tree limb with some small branches or grab a potted plant or mini Christmas Tree (you'll be using it soon again). Cut colorful leaf shapes from construction paper. Here are some templates to print (scroll down). If you really want to get crazy, attach a green or brown pipe cleaner as a stem. You can use this for hanging on the tree and to prop the leaf up as a name tag. Ask each guest to write a short thought about what they are thankful for.
How to find the verses. God has a wonderful way of speaking to us through Holy Scripture. Sit quietly for a time and prayerfully think about each guest. Open your Bible at random and find the short verse meant of that soul and inscribe it on the back of the leaf ...
After Dinner ask everyone to share what they are thankful for and invite them to read the verse you have written and let God speak to their hearts.
Thanksgiving Dinner Menus
In all the world, the United States of America is the only nation that sets apart one day each year to be devoted to thanksgiving to God for the blessings He has accorded. This is a tradition we can well be proud to carry on. The foods that the Pilgrims served on the first Thanksgiving Day are still served today as the basis of the feast — turkey, cranberries, pumpkins, root vegetables — better in quality, prepared more elaborately, but still regarded as fundamentals.
Visit Catholic Culture for a wonderful array of recipes and activities including Latterwaerick!
(It's everyone's favorite, isn't it? Perhaps not)
Loaves and Fishes
Feeding the Multitude
(Unless It's Illegal)
Printable Version Here
We all know the story of the loaves and fishes found in the Gospel of Mark. And we all know that the Gospel holds a timeless message for each of us. Certainly many commentaries have been written on this passage, but I invite you to consider the parallels we find in today's Church.
As the story opens, the Apostles return to Jesus, tired and hungry, to report on the results of their just-completed mission. You'll recall that He sent them out in pairs to teach, to cure the sick, to cast out demons - all in His Name. Oh, one more thing. He told them to go empty handed with just a staff. Don't take any bread or money. Don't even bring along a bag or extra clothes. Just go and do these things in My Name.
We don't know if they followed Our Lord's instructions exactly. Jesus was always giving instructions that were ignored. "Stay awake!" They fell asleep. "Don't tell anyone I cured you." They ran off and shouted from the rooftops. So when Jesus tells them to go out on their mission in simplicity, empty-handed - just as He instructs our clergy and religious to do the same today - did they? We don't know. Maybe He thought that all that extra "stuff" would be a distraction from the heart of the mission.
Empty-handed or not, that first group went out and from the account Mark provides, they were successful. Successful enough that the government of the day - King Herod - got all riled up over it. And that didn't end too well. At least not for John the Baptist. The King genuinely liked John because he spoke the truth, but surrounded by dignitaries and his military at a sumptuous dinner, he caved in to special interests and his own desires and lopped off the Baptist's head. Sound familiar?
Back to the Apostles. They've returned from their trip. They're tired and hungry. Jesus invited them to come away by boat to a secluded place to rest and have something to eat. I'm sure they were grateful for the promise of relaxation. They were probably looking forward to the privilege of "alone time" with Jesus, afforded to the elite inner circle. But things didn't work out that way. I'm betting Jesus knew what would happen next.
There would be no rest for this bunch. Jesus wanted them to know that this was their lot in life. For those who choose to follow Him, there is no rest until they reach their rest in heaven.
The crowds recognized Jesus and the Apostles and ran along to shore to follow. They were starved for the Truth. Jesus took pity on them and told them to sit on the hillside. He began to teach them. The hour grew late and the people had not eaten. His disciples thought Jesus should send them away so they could go into the surrounding towns to buy themselves something to eat. They probably wanted that period of private relaxation that Jesus invited them to earlier.
Instead Jesus said, "You give them something to eat.’
Of course, He was God and could have snapped his fingers and enough food would appear, as Father Cantalmessa, the Papal preacher suggests. He didn't. The challenge Jesus put to the Apostles was no different than the challenge He puts to the Church today.
Not surprisingly, the objections raised by the Disciples are echoed almost exactly in the modern Church. They complained that they had no money to go buy enough food. It would cost too much. Their solution to the problem hinged on cash. I guess they forgot about their recent success when they went out to perform great works with empty pockets.
Jesus told them to take a look around to see what they had on hand. There were five loaves and two fish. He gave thanks to His Father, blessed the food, broke it up and told his disciples to feed the 5,000 gathered there. When everyone had eaten their fill, there were twelve baskets full of bits of bread and fish.
If Jesus walked among us today, He would risk fines and perhaps imprisonment for giving out broken bread and fish of any sort. He didn't have a permit from the government. He didn't wear latex gloves while He handled the food. As for the left overs, He would be forced to throw them away. It would be OK if those who were hungry rummaged around in the trash for those leftovers, but He would be prohibited from giving it to them directly.
Today, works of charity in food panties all over the nation are shackled by government regulations while millions go hungry. Certainly, the rationale behind these rulings makes sense in some regard, but by tying charity to government, there is great waste in the face of very real suffering - not to mention a new class of worker as good works become paid and professionalized.
Here are some examples:
Bulk Food: You might decide to purchase a 100 lb sack of rice to donate to a food pantry. Of course you get a better price because of the bulk size. You think that this huge sack can be divided and shared with 50 or 100 people. Thank again. The pantry is required to give the entire sack to one person. If the bag is opened, even for the purpose of dividing it into smaller amounts, it must be thrown out.
What would Jesus do?
Outdated Food: Auctions for outdated or almost outdated food are sky rocketing in popularity as a way to combat the rising cost of food. If you think you can pick up some bargains to share with your local pantry, think again. They won't take it. Chances are if you leave it there, they'll throw it out. It's safe for you to feed to your family, but don't even think about giving it away.
Most of us think that the dates stamped on food are expiration dates. They're not. One agricultural extension worker reports that she hears from consumers who react to the date stamped on their granola bars and are ready to throw away the whole box. "Anything with a date on it, people automatically think safety," she said. "But the food is still perfectly good."
The government requires dates on only a few types of food including infant formula, meat and dairy. Yet sell-by, use-by and best-if-used-before dates are found on thousands of other foods. Most of the time, the manufacturers determine these dates for themselves. The USDA website states "There is no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States." These dates serve a variety of purposes; they are used to track products in the event of a food safety issue and to help stores determine how long they can be displayed. They are also the manufacturers' recommendations for maximum quality. Basically, they are the food industry's way of saying, time to toss it and buy some more. Even bottled water is dated.
I have a neighbor who worked for a pharmaceutical company that distributed infant formula. She had crates of the stuff in her garage. Mountains. She was going to throw it out. "Stop!" I pleaded. I'll bring it to the food pantry. The expiration date was a month away. I loaded it into my van. Guess what? They wouldn't take it. It went into the trash. And it came back out of the trash into the hands of grateful, poor mothers who found it there.
Does this make any sense?
Meat and Fish - Maybe you go hunting or know someone who does. A single deer yields a lot of meat. Guess what? You can't give it away. Our local seminary has large grounds with a super abundance of deer roaming around. They cause accidents, but no one is permitted to shoot them to share the meat with the poor. The animal activists have seen to that. It's church land. But the church can't serve the virtue of charity with what they rightfully own.
Did you buy meat in bulk and freeze individual packages? Good for you. Too bad you can't share it.
Is your neighborhood plagued by copiously pooping Canadian geese? Recently my neighbor and I surveyed a school field that was covered in hundreds and hundreds of geese. We wondered how many pounds of food those geese represented. The school district went to great expense hiring special dogs to try to get rid of them. It didn't work, but it never occurred to them don't try to catch and kill them for food. It's against the law.
We live on the ocean and fishing is one of my favorite activities. There comes a point when my freezer is full - and that's usually when a neighbor turns up at my door with some monsters he caught off shore. Can I give away extra fish? Nope. No one will take it. Not if it's cleaned and filleted. Not if it's cooked. No fish.
Sorry, Jesus, but you'd be out of luck and so would those hungry 5,000.
Don't think about cooking up a pot of soup or chili or stew. Do you grow your own fruits and vegetables and can them? Keep them to yourself.
The need at food pantries has grown. Many of the people who were once generous donors are now patrons themselves. Nearly every Church bulletin has announcements asking for donations of non-perishable food. More urgently, they ask for money. Clearly they haven't really read the Gospel of Mark.
So what is the answer?
Jesus told the twelve, "You feed them."
He didn't say go give money to the pantry in town so they can buy pre-packaged food that has King Herod's stamp of approval on it -- and then tell everyone to go to there to get food. But only during the hours they're open.
He said, "You feed them."
You heard Him. Go feed them.
Grab a friend and load up your mini-van and head out to your local food pantry. Stop at a restaurant supply house for plastic containers-- or better yet, just raid your own pantry for those take out tubs that you might otherwise toss out.
Fill them with hot food, frozen food, food that has been divided from bulk packages. Beans, rice, macaroni.
Have you made extra squares of lasagna? Give them away maybe with heating instructions.
Do you have deer meat, fish, chicken? Fill a cooler and give it away.
Make sandwiches. Make cookies. Make brownies. Give them away!
Make salads. Slice up fresh tomato from your garden. Give it away!
Bake bread and share it with others. Bake a big loaf and break it!
Do it with your bare hands.
Do it in the Name of the Lord.
I don't know how it happened, but little by little the Church has been shackled by the laws of the land, by the drive for cash, by fear of litigation. Rather than being bound by Our Lord's commission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, the business of helping others has become professionalized. It is no longer possible for the Bride of Christ to just do good in His Name.
But it is possible for you to do it.
It might make you a little uncomfortable.
But He has commanded it.
"You feed them."
Copyright Christine Hirschfeld, Catholic Home and Garden 2009
Please email for permission to reprint
Christ Among Us
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
If you don't want to go out to feed the hungry in person, give generously as you can to your parish food pantry.
Canned goods and non-perishable goods are wonderful.
If you must, give cash.
Give your time by organizing a food drive or
help out in your local pantry.
If you have the time or talent learn to write grants.
They are needed not just for food, but for stoves, refrigerators, electricity to power them, vehicles
to transport workers and goods.
It does continue to bind the Church to government, but without this assistance, they will suffer.
Some groups serve the poor without fear.
They deserve your support.
Send a check to
The Catholic Worker
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal
The Little Sisters of the Poor
The Sisters of Charity
We don't know any groups that more completely
and radically serve those in need while living
a life of poverty themselves.
Send a check now.
If you can.
Send another one in August
when everyone has forgotten the poor
except the poor themselves.
Our family loves happy Priests and Father Leo is one of the happiest priest around. We wish he could come to our Thanksgiving Dinner. Father Leo is on a mission to get families and friends to strengthen bonds by sharing a meal together. Visit his website Grace Before Meals for wonderful ideas, recipes and podcasts. You can sign up for his newsletter, too.