Browsing News Entries

Pause for Prayer: the Day after Thanksgiving


Image source

The day after Thanksgiving...

Forgive us, Lord, 

for yesterday's over-indulgence
and teach us at the same time 
not to waste what's ours in abundance
or hoard the goods 
that others need so much...

As we plan and shop for Christmas
make us grateful for all we already have:
keep us mindful of others' most basic needs,
and tempt us to be generous
in opening our hearts and wallets
to those who truly need a share
of all we have 
and all we have to give...

Help us find the deeper meaning 
in the days that lie ahead:
what's holy, healing and helpful,
what makes us truly happy
in the gift you are for us...

Amen. 




    
Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments 

Pope prays for peace, victims of war in Congo and South Sudan

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2017 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With plans to visit South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year thwarted by ongoing conflict, Pope Francis on Thursday led a prayer vigil for peace in the two countries, asking for an end to war and comfort for victims of the violence.  

“We want to sow seeds of peace in the lands of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in all lands devastated by war,” the Pope said Nov. 23.

Pope Francis had planned to visit South Sudan this fall alongside Anglican Primate Archbishop Joseph Welby for an ecumenical trip aimed at promoting peace in the conflict-ridden country. However, due to safety concerns, the visit was postponed until the situation on the ground stabilizes.

Though he was unable to go, Pope Francis said in his homily for the prayer vigil that “we know that prayer is more important, because it is more powerful: prayer works by the power of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”

South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, some 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country in hopes of finding peace, food and work. In August alone Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the urgency of the crisis as the world's fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who have not fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge in churches for protection from violence. Most IDPs are typically women, children and those who have lost their families in the war.  

Many are too fearful to stay in their homes because they know they could be killed, tortured, raped or even forced to fight. And despite successful partnerships between the local Church, aid agencies and the government, refugees in many areas still need a proper supply of food.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political unrest first erupted in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections. The bill was widely seen by the opposition as a power grab on the part of Kabila.

Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory, insisting it be controlled by the local leaders.

Catholic bishops in the country had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila. However, in January of this year, the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.

With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries.

In the past year alone, more than 3,300 people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region. The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group.

In his brief homily for the prayer vigil, Pope Francis noted how in the entrance hymn, the words “the risen Christ invites us, alleluia!” were sung in Swahili. As Christians, “we believe and know that peace is possible, because Jesus is risen,” he said.

The prayer vigil consisted of five prayers each followed by a song and prayers of intercession, as well as the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi asking God to make him an instrument of peace.  

The prayers consisted of petitions for conversion; to overcome indifference and divisions; for women who are victims of violence in war zones; for all those who cause war and for those who have responsibility at the local and international levels; for all innocent victims of war and violence and for all those committed to working for peace in South Sudan and the Congo.

Quoting from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Pope Francis said that Jesus Christ “is our peace,” and that on the cross, “he took upon himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies.”

“Jesus conquered all this by his resurrection,” he said, and, speaking directly to God, said, that “without you, Lord, our prayer would be in vain, and our hope for peace an illusion. But you are alive. You are at work for us and with us. You are our peace!”

Francis then prayed that the Risen Christ would “break down the walls of hostility” that divide peoples throughout the world, particularly in South Sudan and the DCR.

He asked that God would comfort women who have been victims of violence in war zones, and protect children who suffer from various conflicts “in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself.”

“How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children,” he said, noting that “here war shows its most horrid face.”

The Pope closed his prayer with a series of appeals, the first being that God would help “all the little ones and the poor of our world to continue to believe and trust that the kingdom of God is at hand, in our midst, and is justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

He asked that God would support all those who work daily to combat evil with good through words and deeds of fraternity, respect, encounter and solidarity, and prayed that the Lord would strengthen government officials and leaders with a spirit that is “noble, upright, steadfast and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation.”

“May the Lord enable all of us to be peacemakers wherever we find ourselves, in our families, in school, at work, in the community, in every setting,” he said.

Commentary: Giving thanks for trials - and for providence

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2017 / 09:07 am (CNA).- The best feast our family has ever had was in a hospital room, four years ago, on Christmas. Our daughter was being treated for leukemia, and my wife was living in the hospital with her. My son and I brought supplies for a makeshift picnic, and the four of us spent a long afternoon together, with an acute sense of gratitude for the gift of one another's presence.

Our daughter spent almost a year in cancer treatment, most of it living with my wife in a hospital's oncology wing, an hour away. It was a difficult time, in which we faced the crosses of our daughter's illness and of being often separated. 

And yet, we were aware then, as we are now, what a graced time that was for our family. We were aware of how much the Lord was doing for us. We could see how much he was providing for us. We were aware, in short, how much we had to be thankful for.

When we find ourselves radically dependent on the Lord to get us through a time of trial or suffering, we become aware of how much love he pours out into our lives. When we can't ignore how much we need the Lord, we see clearly what he's doing for us. This is why times of trial are also, so often, times of deep and sincere gratitude.

I'm often amazed when I talk with missionaries, living in very difficult circumstances, who seem also to live with a real sense of what God has given them, and real gratitude for how he has loved them. Their lives, which are often unpredictable and uncomfortable, seem to inculcate an understanding of what it means to depend on Divine Providence, and a gratitude for the small graces the Lord has given them.

It's much more difficult to really be thankful when we are comfortable enough to maintain illusions of self-sufficiency, or to focus on trivialities and our petty desires. It is often harder to see the ways the Lord is working in our lives when we have settled into a kind of pleasant satisfaction with ordinary living.

This is a reminder that disciples of Jesus should avoid the kind of comfortable complacency that the world often calls success or security. That illusions of security and self-sufficiency are inimical growing in intimate unity for the Lord, or sincere gratitude for his grace.

In short, when our lives require sacrifice, or entail hardship, because we are stretched by the demands of love, we are far more likely to see the power of God's goodness, and to be grateful for the ways in which he loves us.

If we want a deeper unity with God, we should consider the ways in which he invites us to deny ourselves for the sake of love, and we should pick up our crosses. If we want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes from real, and powerful, experiences of God's Providence, we need to give up the idea that our lives are our own, and offer them more fully and freely to the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of bishops, priests, and Church leaders, at which we discussed some of the challenges the Church is facing in contemporary American culture. Most of those issues are well known. It was important to discuss them openly, but by the end of the day, many of us were feeling very discouraged.

After the meeting, I talked with a friend who said that we should be grateful for the challenges of our world. He said that it will likely become harder to be a Christian disciple in the years to come. And he said that our pending difficulties might invite more of us to intimate unity with God.

This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the crosses the Lord has already placed in our lives – the illnesses or struggles during which Christ reveals the depth and constancy of his love for us. We should ask the Lord to show us how he calls us to give ourselves more concretely to love, and thank him for opportunities to grow in wonder and appreciation for his Providence. And we should thank the Lord for the challenges which may lie ahead of us, which might deepen our faith and dependence on the grace of God. 

“In all circumstances,” writes St. Paul, “give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This Thanksgiving, no matter our circumstances, let us give thanks for the love, goodness, and generosity of Jesus Christ, our King.

 

When you serve others, stay humble, Pope tells Franciscans

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2017 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said on Thursday to always be humble when serving others, especially the least of these, remembering how much you yourself have received that you did not deserve.

“When you do some activity for the 'little ones,' the excluded and the least, never do it from a pedestal of superiority,” Pope Francis said Nov. 23. “Think rather that all that you do for them is a way of returning what you have received for free.”

“Make a welcoming and friendly space for all the least of these of our time to come into your life: the marginalized, men and women who live in our streets, parks or stations; the thousands of unemployed, young people and adults,” he continued.

As well as the “many sick people who do not have access to adequate care; many abandoned elders; mistreated women; immigrants seeking a respectable life; all those who live in the existential suburbs, deprived of dignity and even the light of the Gospel.”

Learn to be, as St. Francis said, “sick with the sick, afflicted with the afflicted,” the Pope said.

Francis met Thursday with a group of around 400 Franciscans, members of the First and Third Ordinary Orders, encouraging them to approach everything they do with the humility of a child.

“That is why your relationship with Him should be that of a child: humble and confident and, like that of the Publican in the Gospel, (who is) aware of his sin,” and asks for God’s mercy.

The Pope said that the Franciscan concept of “minority,” or of humbling yourself, is an important aspect of their relationships with God, with their brothers in the order, and with all men and women, because for St. Francis, “man has nothing of his own if not his own sin, and his value is his worth before God and nothing else.”

But how do we remain humble in all our relationships and interactions with others? he asked. By avoiding any behavior of superiority, such as quick judgments, speaking badly of others behind their back, demanding repayment for favors, and using our authority to subdue others.

We should also try to avoid the temptation to become angry or upset at others’ sins. In all your interactions with fellow brothers of the order, follow “the dynamism of charity,” the Pope said.

“Therefore, while justice will bring you to recognize the rights of everyone, charity transcends these rights and calls you to fraternal communion; because it is not the rights you love, but the brothers, whom you have to accept with respect, understanding and mercy.”

Cardinal DiNardo: This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for immigrants and refugees

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2017 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Thanksgiving message, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he is grateful for the gifts and contributions of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States,” DiNardo said.

“My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.”

Following the lead of Pope Francis, as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Bishops have been increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding immigration reform and policies, particularly those that harm families or endanger the safety of immigrants.

The U.S. bishops have expressed “a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago,” DiNardo said.

These policies include the ending of DACA, which benefited hundreds of thousands of young people who entered the U.S. as migrants, as well as the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people of several Central American countries, who have sought refuge from violence and natural disasters in the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops recommended that the government extend TPS status for tens of thousands of Haitians, who came to the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

The bishops, who sent a delegation to assess Haiti’s capability to accept returned nationals, found that the country would not be capable of supporting tens of thousands of people who would be forced to return home. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that TPS status would end for Haitians in the United States by July 2019.

“One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society,” DiNardo said.

“These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families,” he added.

These current issues are symptomatic of a broken immigration system that has long been in need of comprehensive reform, a process which will take years but to which the bishops are committed, in order to ensure that the United States is “welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law,” DiNardo said.

“So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation,” he said.

“I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer.”

 

Homily for Thanksgiving Day



I didn't preach from a text this morning so I only have the audio version of today's homily.






 

   
Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments 

Cardinal O'Malley's statement on administration's decision



Here is Cardinal Sean O'Malley's statement in response to the administration's decision to rescind Temporary Protected Status for some 50,000 Haitian immigrants currently living in the United States.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon the blessings our nation and ourselves and families have received from a generous God, and to renew our commitment, personally and nationally, to share these blessings with all who live in this land. The spirit of gratitude and generosity embodied in Thanksgiving stands in sharp contrast to the decision of the U.S. Government this week to end Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for over 50,000 Haitians living in the United States. TPS is an act of compassion and care designed to assist those whose visas have expired in the United States, and for whom return to their native land is either dangerous or threatening to their lives and welfare. TPS is the kind of political generosity which for decades has earned the United States a positive reputation throughout the international community.

The decision made this week to end TPS status for Haitians is unnecessary and unwise. More to the point, it is neither required nor is it morally right. It is true that the U.S. Government has the legal capacity to terminate TPS for Haitians as well as Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans living under TPS today. But the United States can and should do far better. As the strongest and wealthiest nation in the Americas we have a moral responsibility to provide care and compassion for our brothers and sisters living here under TPS. An action that would deport thousands of men, women and children to the poorest country in the Americas contradicts the image we hold of ourselves and the leadership we seek to provide for the world.

Throughout almost fifty years of religious life and priesthood I have had the privilege to work with immigrants and refugees coming to the United States for protection and for the opportunity for a better life for themselves and their families. As the Archbishop of Boston it is a blessing for me to be able to continue this ministry. The Boston area has one of the largest Haitian communities in the United States. Annually I celebrate the Haitian Independence Day on January 1st by celebrating Mass with the Haitian community. The enthusiasm and spirit of those who have filled the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to capacity reflects the tremendous goodness these individuals and families bring to our local communities. I know in detail what the consequences will be for our Haitian population, including the hundreds of children in our Catholic schools, and others now protected by TPS if that protection is ended. There will be great pain and suffering as families will be separated and children possibly left behind as parents are deported.

These dire consequences will not end with deportation: returning to Haiti at this time means going back to a country still struggling to recover from the effects of a massive earthquake, the outbreak of cholera and the recent impact of Hurricane Matthew. The Church in Haiti has described how unrealistic it is to propose that 50,000 people be received and resettled into the devastation and poverty in their land.

As a bishop and a pastor, as well as a citizen I am compelled to speak clearly against the current policy of our government in refusing to extend TPS for the Haitian community. It is my hope that the U.S. Congress will work with the Trump Administration to rectify this policy which lacks both wisdom and compassion. It is my hope that the Catholic community will join other American citizens in calling for a response to our Haitian neighbors that acknowledges both their dignity and our responsibility, a better and more humane response to men and women with families, with jobs which serve our communities, and with the hope to continue their lives in this good and generous nation.


    

Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments

A Seminarian Thanksgiving in Rome

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome have a lot to be thankful for come Thanksgiving Day. Among them is their community, and also for home-baked pumpkin pie, made by their fellow students, the fifth-year student priests of the college.

Fr. Kevin Ewing, a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is the leader of this year’s seven intrepid volunteers, who during two afternoons before Thanksgiving will assemble and bake 90 pumpkin pies, to be eaten at the NAC’s annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

Situated atop Janiculum hill overlooking the Vatican, the campus is home to roughly 250 seminarians and priests studying in Rome for the Church in the U.S., Canada and Australia, as well as numerous faculty members and graduate students.

Since the students aren’t able to return home for the holiday, they try to make it a big community event, especially for seminarians who may be experiencing their first time away from home for a holiday.

Fr. Daniel Hanley, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA and the director of admissions for the college, told CNA that his favorite part of the festivities “is the spirit that's engendered here among the men.”

During a time usually associated with family, it can be difficult for some students to be away from home, he said, but “the whole spirit of the house is a desire to make the day good for each other.”

And the fifth-year students baking the pies? That’s gone on a long time, something Hanley remembers as already a part of long-established tradition when he was a student in Rome in the early 2000s.

This year’s seven priests have limited baking acumen, but “as long as there’s enough people there willing to lend a hand and follow the recipe and watch the oven it’ll come out alright,” Ewing said.

Part of the tradition also includes the fifth-year priests, and transitional deacons not returning to Rome the following year, serving the dinner, Ewing explained: “It’s a way of giving back to the community in a way that we’ve received now for four or five years.”

On Thanksgiving, the day’s festivities will begin around 6 am with a newer development, the NAC’s very own 5k “Turkey Trot,” which starts at the college, and winds around the outside of the Vatican, before returning, uphill, to the seminary.

“Its claim to fame is it's the only Turkey Trot to go around a sovereign nation,” joked third-year seminarian Michael Buck.

An Australian, studying for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Buck will be celebrating only his third Thanksgiving this year. He said that “discovering the tradition” has definitely been one of the great joys of being at the seminary.

Following the run, seminarians will meet back in their halls to enjoy a leisurely breakfast together before preparing for the noon Mass, which is “the center of our day,” stated Hanley.

The big meal will follow, including guests and friends from around Rome, especially American expats. Another tradition is for seating to be arranged according to home state, tables adorned with state-themed décor, such as sports jerseys or a papier-mâché cactus.

The Australian students – there are five – usually sit at a table together, but have decided this year to spread themselves out among the Americans, Buck said, as a way of more fully integrating into the holiday.

The dinner, which “captures most the festive atmosphere of the day,” according to Buck, will be a traditional American dinner in most ways – complete with turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy. But because they’re still in Rome, a dish of ravioli will provide an Italian twist.

After dinner there will be some free-time, and students often use that opportunity to make video calls home to their families.

Fr. Hanley noted that one of his favorite memories of Thanksgiving Day was walking into the chapel after dinner one year to offer a personal prayer of thanksgiving, and finding more than 100 seminarians praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

“It wasn’t an event, it was just that all these other men decided to go in and pray… and give thanks on Thanksgiving,” he said.

The final event of the holiday weekend will be the “Spaghetti Bowl,” an annual flag football match between a team of “new men” of the seminary, first-year and new transfer students, and a team of upperclassmen, nicknamed the “old men.”

A lot of the weekend is designed, Hanley said, to strengthen “the bond of the new men class – with each other – and then to strengthen their bond as members of this community.” Though most people would want to be home for Thanksgiving if they could, he noted that most seminarians seem to look forward to the weekend.

“There is certainly an atmosphere of thanksgiving and an atmosphere of taking stock” over the day’s celebrations, Buck explained, as well as joy for getting to spend the day together.

As an Aussie, Buck also wanted to offer his own gratitude for the holiday and getting to participate, saying he shares his own “thanksgiving for being able to share in Thanksgiving.”

 

Pause for Prayer: THANKSGIVING DAY


In between rushing about the kitchen, setting the table, greeting guests, traveling to visit family and friends, watching the game and crashing on the sofa - we all need to pause and pray on this day for giving thanks...  This post includes a grace before dinner, a prayer by an empty chair, a midday prayer for Thanksgiving and a reflection for later in the afternoon...

Grace Before Thanksgiving Day Dinner

Saying Grace - Norman Rockwell

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation!   

Through your goodness we have so much
for which to give you thanks and praise...

Make us grateful for all you've given us;
may our desire for more not blind us to all we have...

Make us grateful for all who love us;
may no grudge or anger keep us distant
from family and friends, neighbors and colleagues... 

Make us grateful for those who are with us;
may no grief isolate us from their loving embrace...

Make us grateful for the good work we have done:
may our mistakes and failures not weigh us down
or blind us to your mercy... 

Make us grateful for the freedom we enjoy;
may we never take it for granted...

Make us grateful for the peace we find in you;
let no other cause or victory take its place...

Make us grateful for our dreams;
let no disappointment keep us from hope... 

Make us grateful for our faith in you;
let no doubt cloud our trusting in your love...

Make us grateful for the meal we are about to share
and mindful of all who have so much less... 

Nourish and strengthen us
to change what keeps so many hungry
while others, like us, have more than we need...

Give us grateful hearts, O God, to praise and thank you:
in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health,
in plenty and in want, in sorrow and in joy...

This is the day you have made, O Lord:
let us be glad and rejoice in it
and give you thanks and praise! 

Amen.

 Praying with an empty chair at the table...


A Prayer at an Empty Chair 

This Thanksgiving, Lord, 
there’ll be an empty chair at our table,
an ache in our hearts
and tears on our cheeks...

We might shield others from our grief
but we can't hide it from you...

We pray for  (name your loved ones) 
whose loving presence we'll miss 
at this homecoming time...

Help us remember and tell again 
the stories that knit us as one
with the ones we miss so much...

Open our hearts to joyful memories 
of the love we shared
with those who've gone before us...

Let the bonds you forged so deep in our hearts
grow stronger yet 
in remembering those who've left our side... 

Help us pray and trust that those we miss
have a home in your heart
and a place at your table forever
and that one day we'll be one with them
once again...

Teach us to lean on you and on one another
for the strength we need 
to walk through these difficult days...

Open our eyes and our hearts 
to the healing, the warmth
and the peace of your presence...

Give us quiet moments with you in prayer,
with our memories and loss,
with our thoughts and tears...

Be with us to console us 
and hold us in your arms
as you hold the ones we miss...

Even in our grief, Lord,
this is the day that you have made:
help us be glad in the peace you've promised,
the peace we pray you share 
with those who've gone before us...

For ourselves, Lord,
and for all who find the holidays to be a difficult time,
we make this prayer...

Amen.
 

A Midday Prayer on Thanksgiving
 

It's Thanksgiving Day...

Today I thank you, Lord, for the gift of faith:
that strength, power and source within
showing me the way,
guiding me in the dark,
making sure my faltering step,
giving light for finding truth
and hope for living gracefully
through trials and troubled times...

Today I thank you, Lord,  
for the gift of your Church:
that wounded, rag-tag, joyful company of saints and sinners
whose faith is my strength, binding us all together,
brothers and sisters in you and in your love...

Today I thank you, Lord, for all the people around me
and those behind me and before me:
the ones who've helped to make me the person I've become;
those who've loved me in ways too many to know or to imagine;
those who've loved me when I've failed to love them in return;
those who've pardoned and forgiven me with mercy and with grace;
those who've shared their joy with me, who fill my heart with peace
and who help me trust and know with hope
that you are ever by my side...

And today I thank you, Lord,
for all the people I have yet to meet
but will...

Today I thank you, Lord, for the mystery of your presence:
in everyone I know and meet;
in the simplest and most ordinary moments of each day;
and in the stillness, in the quiet
of the time I spend with you in prayer...

Today I praise and thank you, Lord,
for you are my God
from whom all blessings flow...

Amen. 



A poem for later on Thanksgiving Day

Image source

From a friend who's a teacher, singer and poet, a reflection to share at the end of Thanksgiving Day...
This is the sixth year I've posted John's Thanksgiving poem and last year he provided a video of his reading his own work and playing the background music. 




Thanksgiving

I am surprised sometimes
by the suddenness of November:
beauty abruptly shed
to a common nakedness--
grasses deadened
by hoarfrost,
persistent memories
of people I've lost.

It is left to those of us
dressed in the hard
barky skin of experience
to insist on a decorum
that rises to the greatness
of a true Thanksgiving.

This is not a game
against a badly scheduled team,
an uneven match on an uneven pitch.

This is Life.
This is Life.
This is Life.

Not politely mumbled phrases,
murmured with a practiced and meticulous earnestness.

Thanksgiving was born a breech-birth,
a screaming appreciation for being alive--
for not being one of the many
who didn't make it--
who couldn't moil through
another hardscrabble year
on tubers and scarce fowl.

Thanksgiving is for being you.
There are no thanks without you.

You are the power of hopeful promise;
you are the balky soil turning upon itself;
you are bursting forth in your experience.

You are not the person next to you--
not an image or an expectation.
You are the infinite and eternal you--
blessed, and loved, and consoled
by the utter commonness
and community of our souls.

We cry and we're held.
We love and we hold.

We are the harvest of God,
constantly renewed,
constantly awakened
to a new thanksgiving.
- John Fitzsimmons

Catholics encounter the homeless on the streets of Hollywood

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 22, 2017 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Eucharistic procession is not the first thing people expect to see on the streets of Hollywood, California.

But last Saturday, that’s what happened, with hundreds of people taking part in an evening of prayer and encounter with the homeless.

Nathan Sheets, executive director of The Center, a group that works to fight isolation among the homeless, told CNA that the event provided “an opportunity for individuals from the community, and outside the community, to have a [long-lasting] encounter.”

“Seeing the common humanity in other individuals can only happen with these types of encounters, and I believe that from those types of experiences ... our imaginations for how we can help can be spurned to more than just on one night.”

The Center is one of the homeless advocacy groups that make up the “Beloved Movement,” the coalition that organized the Nov. 19 event, which took place on the first World Day of the Poor.

The event started with Sunday Vigil Mass at Blessed Sacrament parish, followed by a Eucharistic Procession through downtown Hollywood. About 800 attendees proceeded in song or silent prayer, encountering those they met on the streets, and then returned to the parish for adoration and testimonies.

Deacon Spencer Lewrence, another organizer for the event, said a woman named Diane shared her past experiences of addiction and prostitution along Hollywood Boulevard, but how she now returns with her kids to the same street to aid the homeless.

She also recited a poem called the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” he told CNA, including the line, “We all have wounds big or small, but joined with Christ we share them all.”

Deacon Lewrence said the event helps Catholics realize that we share a common human dignity with the poor and discover Christ’s constant love even in times of weakness.

“We see Beloved as a movement to get out of ourselves and get close to those who are homeless or who just feel homeless inside for whatever reason. We can recognize that we feel that way too. We see ourselves in each other,” he said.

The Center’s mission is to extend this shared experience to more than one night, said Sheets, adding that long-term community is the best means to create true change.  

In addition to addressing housing, health care resources and other issues faced by the homeless, The Center also works to fight isolation. Its day program, called the Wellness Program, invites individuals to participate in “trauma-informed groups, and community activities to build trust and rapport” while providing a healthy meal.

“About 25 percent of the individuals we see each day have gotten into housing in the time they have become part of our community at The Center, and yet they still come for the community-building groups and our 9 a.m. Monday to Thursday Coffee Hour,” Sheets said.

Encountering more than 200 people per week, the organization will engage its clients in poetry, short stories, and other artistic endeavors.

Sheets said creating this safe place allows the homeless to experience a rich community that encourages change while being given the freedom to improve on their own time.

“We worked to help find housing for a guy who moved in last week, who spent more than 10 years coming into The Center before he articulated a desire to get an ID, turn on his Social Security and then look for housing.”

Having witnessed many long-lasting relationships like these, Sheets said one of his favorite parts of Friday’s event is watching parishioners begin to build this community with the homeless.

“At the end of the day, I think the most important work happens through long-term relationship building, and I think this was the start of something like that for a group of Catholics who may not have had this experience before.”