As I write to you this month from the northern half of the United States, our autumn season is in full swing. The temperatures are dropping and daylight hours are shrinking. As one drives through the countryside, farmers are gathering their harvest of corn and soybeans. Farm stands selling apples, pumpkins and squash seem to appear around every corner. The new life of Spring and the explosive growth of Summer are now manifested in the abundance that one cannot help but notice. This season is marked by harvest festivals in many states throughout the region, much as it is in agricultural regions throughout the world. We celebrate the grace of abundant food that should be adequate to sustain us through the long, cold winter ahead.
Thanksgiving Celebration in the US
In the United States, our harvest season culminates on the fourth Thursday of the month with the national holiday of Thanksgiving. The holiday has its roots in the earliest years of the settlement of what has become the United States. It commemorates the feast celebrated after the European pilgrims’ first harvest in the New World. Fifty-three Pilgrims who survived difficult conditions feasted with some 90 Native Americans responsible for helping the foreigners to adapt their ways to their new surroundings. The colonists were not only thankful to God for an abundant harvest but also grateful to the natives who generously shared their knowledge of the land and its ways, knowledge without which the colonists may not have survived their second winter in the New World. Some nearly 400 years later, families, whether rich or poor, gather in homes all across the country to commemorate the first Thanksgiving and give thanks for the abundance they enjoy.
The Thanksgiving holiday is centered around the family meal, with a large roasted turkey as the star of the show. The grand bird is surrounded by side dishes of all kinds and more than one delicious dessert. As the designated chef for the big day, my responsibility is to make sure that no one leaves hungry and that everyone gets the chance to enjoy one of his or her favorite dishes. The whole celebration cries out “Abundance!” (perhaps even over-indulgence.) For many, Thanksgiving remains the favorite holiday of the year. For most of us it is permeated with a genuine and profound sense of gratitude for the blessings of family and friends. It is a day when we can deeply appreciate that which we have and not focus on what we might still want. The sense of gratitude is real and palpable. Invariably, no matter who leads it, the opening prayer asks for blessings on those who do not have adequate food or shelter.
We easily forget the poor
While the poor are with us in our prayers and in the spirit of gratitude that permeates our Thanksgiving celebration, I have come to realize that we can sometimes leave our concerns for them at the dinner table. In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving has become the biggest shopping day of the year, contributing to the sense that we should continue to celebrate the privilege of excess. In contrast, as I reflect on the gospel message, the appropriate response to blessing and grace, beyond mere gratitude, is to share with others who are in need. I must not only feel grateful, I must act generously. But for me, like for many, gratitude comes easily, but generosity is a lot more difficult. In fact our feelings of gratitude can even lead us into a place of comfort and complacency. I can become content with regularly thanking God for my many blessings and forget those who are in need of my generosity. I feel good about loving God but don’t feel compelled to show love of neighbour. I am almost embarrassed as I reflect on how in our early years of marriage Crystal and I were often looking for soldiers, sailors or others who were far from home to be part of our family’s holiday celebrations. It seems that, as we prospered, our concern for those in need of a family dinner experience diminished. Now we might contribute to dinners or other events for the hungry and the homeless, but we don’t invite them to our table. It strikes me that generosity with our excess is no substitute for sharing our blessed lives with others.
How about sharing our spiritual blessings?
It further strikes me that this notion of putting gratitude into action through generous sharing doesn’t apply only to material blessings. As I have been blessed to grow in my faith, I am ever more grateful but ever more conscious of my responsibility to share the gift of faith with others. The call of Jesus to go forth and make disciples of all nations is a personal mission I know I must actively live out. As I come to appreciate the abundance of joy and peace promised to those who follow Christ, the more compelled I am to get to work. It is not hard in this day and age to recognize spiritual poverty in our world. I know God has richly blessed me with a wonderful Catholic faith and a dynamic and holy wife who shares that faith. Yet, I remain reticent to share that faith with others, even with my own family. I judge that I don’t know enough and that I don’t practice what I might preach. I let myself be comfortable with committing to get better at prayer, more regular in daily Mass attendance and seeking reconciliation. I allow myself the space to imagine that if I will spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration and commit to a regular morning prayer routine, then I will be ready to evangelize. If I get holier, maybe then I will get more generous. I suspect it is fear that keeps me from sharing what is perhaps the greatest gift I have to give anyone. If I have come to understand about how deeply God loves me and how He desires to be united with all of His children, how can I remain silent? If by voicing my faith I can draw even one soul closer to Christ, why would I shy away? Yet I do. So my prayer this Thanksgiving is for myself and for all of us to be thankful to God for all of the many gifts, material or spiritual, that He has so abundantly bestowed on us and to have the strength and the courage to generously share them with those we encounter who are in need of His loving goodness.
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CRYSTAL AND KEVIN SULLIVAN