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For Catholics, Thanksgiving should feel familiar, for it is the act of giving thanks that unites us in gratitude throughout the year in the Eucharist we celebrate as a family of faith.

Thanksgiving: It's What We Do All Year
By: Kathleen M. Carroll

Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
What does the Thanksgiving holiday have to do with our Catholic faith? “Nothing at all,” some might say. It is a secular holiday with roots in the traditions of the very anti-Catholic Puritans. But it is a day that combines gratitude, food, and family —you can’t get much more Catholic than that.


All people of faith have some element of praise and thanksgiving in their spiritual practice. Devout Jews recite the Amidah—a prayer that begins with God’s praises and concludes with thanksgiving—three times a day. Muslims pray five times a day to thank God. For Catholics, though, there is an even more intimate connection between our faith and gratitude.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC, 1324). The very word Eucharist, though, is taken from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The Church requires us to attend Mass on Sunday (or Saturday evening), so that we can all together fulfill our Lord’s request: “Do this in memory of me.” Our Liturgy of the Word reminds us of the words of Scripture—our story as a people. Our Liturgy of the Eucharist reminds us that we are a family in faith. And the best way to celebrate a gathering of family is with a shared meal.


The “correct” contents of the Thanksgiving meal can be a source of comfort, but also a cornucopia of contention. The homey smells of turkey and pumpkin pie wafting from the oven inspire nostalgia and evoke charming memories of holidays past. In some cases, however, the ingredients of the “proper” meal have become so ritualized in some families that there is no room for error.

I have an in-law for whom dressing is not dressing if it is not made with oysters. My father had grown so attached to a gaudy, colorful turkey platter that he threatened to “cancel” Thanksgiving altogether when it disappeared. And my mother was so insistent that there be cranberry sauce on the table (“and not that fancy kind with the lumps in it, but the old-fashioned kind from a can”), that one year we watched the turkey grow cold while one of my brothers went trekking to find an open grocery store.

While this habit can tend to an unfortunate extreme, it reminds us of what we as Catholics know very well—ritual and tradition are important. When we come together at Mass, there might be a surprise of coffee and doughnuts in the school cafeteria afterward, but there will be no surprises on the altar. There is a warm comfort in knowing where everything is, knowing what comes next, knowing where we belong. All we love about home and family is celebrated when we gather around a table prepared just so, just like always.

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At the same time, there are a few things we’d prefer not to celebrate about home and family. When it comes to bringing the family together around the Thanksgiving table, there’s always that one uncle who tries to talk politics through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. Someone is always doing an “it really wasn’t even funny the first time” impression of Henry VIII with a turkey leg. And sooner or later your cousin is going to have more than her fair share of the “special occasion” wine and start reminiscing about family secrets better forgotten. We can have the same experience as a faith community. One parish might have a tone-deaf music director. Another might feature sermons so monotonous that you find yourself making a remotecontrol fast-forward gesture out of habit. And sooner or later you’re going to sit next to the old lady wearing at least ten ounces of perfume or the young lady wearing at most ten ounces of fabric. Sometimes it might seem that Thanksgiving and Mass resemble one another most when we ask, “Do I have to go?” Dressing up—and dressing the kids—can be a challenge. Traditions can devolve into empty ritual and we find ourselves wondering if it is worth all the effort. With maturity we learn that there is no Christianity without community. The very nature of God, the Trinity, has relationship at the heart of its mystery. If we’re sincere in seeking God, we’re not likely to find him in a burning bush or on a storm-shrouded mountain. God is always hiding where we don’t want to look—behind the turkey leg, beyond the cloying perfume, within the eyes of that long-winded preacher. Community The old hymn that tells us “wherever two or three are gathered in my name” comes straight from Scripture. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Thanksgiving offers us an opportunity to gather with loved ones far and near. Most Americans share a home with their nuclear families, a tremendous change from ages past when many generations shared a single roof. The holidays remind us of the importance of those loved ones we do not see every day. Our Catholic faith encourages us to be mindful, not only of our current family and community, but also of the extended family of faith we enjoy through the communion of saints. Even those who no longer can join us at our dinner table still share with us at the Table of the Lord.

During the holidays, we are also encouraged to remember those who cannot share our table due to infirmity, illness, poverty, distance, or estrangement. Explore the outreach programs your parish may sponsor and volunteer to cook an extra turkey or deliver meals to the homebound. Discover new forms of social media, which can allow you to have face-to-face conversations with loved ones far away, while a simple phone call or note can cheer older or less tech-savvy friends and relatives. These easy ways to communicate are an inviting way to reach out to those with whom you have lost touch.

Gathered at the Table

Madeleine L’Engle imagines a scene that illustrates Christ’s forgiveness in her story "Waiting for Judas":

There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down. It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”

No matter our failings, Jesus is ready to forgive us and welcome us to his table. That is something for which we can truly be thankful.

Put the Giving in Thanksgiving

by Ericka McCabe

Many people donate their money, food, and even time to local food pantries and soup kitchens during the holidays, but some people do this year round. On most Thursdays, you can find Franciscan Father Hilarion Kistner helping out at Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

It is a busy ministry, serving an average of 450 meals per day. All the food served comes from donations, and all the volunteers are united in a spirit of Christian service. Before each meal they gather with the kitchen staff for a quick prayer and a shared “Our Father.”

But Our Daily Bread is more than just a place to have a meal. For its many clients struggling with mental illness, the organization provides activities two days a week, and offers access to social services, legal aid, job help, clothing, computers, and more.

An outreach program also distributes groceries. Every guest is greeted with a friendly hello and a smile. That sense of family, welcome, and community makes this the most popular soup kitchen in the Greater Cincinnati area. The food is served on real china with silverware, and fresh flowers often grace the tables. Volunteers bus the tables for guests. Fr. Hilarion is Franciscan Media’s Scripture expert and editor of Sunday Homily Helps. He has volunteered at Our Daily Bread weekly for eight years. A friar for sixty-five years, he knew early in life that he was called to the priesthood. While in the seminary he “fell in love with St. Francis, and…wanted to be like him.” Which, Father humbly admits, “is hard.”

He began his work at Our Daily Bread in response to his province’s reminder that the friars “are supposed to be people involved with the poor.” This focus on solidarity with the poor is a central component of the Franciscan charism.

Fr. Hilarion sees his work as “an opportunity to serve Jesus.” Mother Teresa described those she served as “Jesus in disguise.” This is an image that resonates with Fr. Hilarion. He says, “Every human being contains the glory of God,” and he hopes to serve God by serving others. Ask any volunteer, and you will hear the same—the experience of helping others is as transformative for the giver as for the receiver. And as Christians, it is what we are called to do: to be Jesus’s hands on earth. This call comes not just at the holidays; it is perpetual. Need knows no season.

Kathleen M. Carroll is managing editor of Catholic Update Special Editions. She is the author of St. Francis: A Short Biography and A Mary Christmas.

NEXT: Lent: A Simple Guide, by Kathleen M. Carroll

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Fidelis of Sigmaringen: If a poor man needed some clothing, Fidelis would often give the man the clothes right off his back. Complete generosity to others characterized this saint's life. 
<p>Born in 1577, Mark Rey (Fidelis was his religious name) became a lawyer who constantly upheld the causes of the poor and oppressed people. Nicknamed "the poor man's lawyer," Fidelis soon grew disgusted with the corruption and injustice he saw among his colleagues. He left his law career to become a priest, joining his brother George as a member of the Capuchin Order. His wealth was divided between needy seminarians and the poor. </p><p>As a follower of Francis, Fidelis continued his devotion to the weak and needy. During a severe epidemic in a city where he was guardian of a friary, Fidelis cared for and cured many sick soldiers. </p><p>He was appointed head of a group of Capuchins sent to preach against the Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. Almost certain violence threatened. Those who observed the mission felt that success was more attributable to the prayer of Fidelis during the night than to his sermons and instructions. </p><p>He was accused of opposing the peasants' national aspirations for independence from Austria. While he was preaching at Seewis, to which he had gone against the advice of his friends, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped unharmed. A Protestant offered to shelter Fidelis, but he declined, saying his life was in God's hands. On the road back, he was set upon by a group of armed men and killed. </p><p>He was canonized in 1746. Fifteen years later, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which was established in 1622, recognized him as its first martyr.</p> American Catholic Blog Obedience means total surrender and wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. All the difficulties that come in our work are the result of disobedience.

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