Faith Alive

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    Thanksgiving Day is a day where a holy spirit pervades. Holiness is found in the elements of giving thanks, discovering unity and reaching out to others.

    If we take the lead from the first Thanksgiving, our holiday tables should feature the food and people close to us.

    In giving thanks, we mustn't overlook God, for God has created everything that we are grateful for.


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    Making a holiday holy

    By Father Herb Weber

    Catholic News Service

    Michael celebrated his first Thanksgiving as a married man at the home of his wife Maria's parents. Gathered for the huge midday meal were her parents and Maria's siblings with their spouses. All the traditional foods were served and the conversation was good.

    After the meal, Michael went into his in-laws' living room, turned on the television and sat down to watch football games. He was just settling in when Maria came into the room and asked what he was doing.

    His answer was that he was planning to spend the afternoon watching games or allowing the turkey-induced tryptophan to bring on a nap. In defense, Michael said that is what his dad and brothers and he always did at their house after the Thanksgiving Day meal.

    Maria's quick answer was, "Well, we don't do that in our family." Then she added that everyone helps clean up so they can all relax.

    Michael shared his faux pas in Maria's presence, and both of them assured me that they would continue to learn from each other.

    With perhaps the exception of Christmas, it seems no holiday has as much tradition as Thanksgiving. But it soon becomes clear that those traditions vary from house to house.

    One family may have unique ethnic foods at their meal while another has an afternoon game of touch football. One family I know always starts with a 5K run. In my previous parish where we offered a free community meal, many parishioners volunteered to serve the food first before going to their own homes to celebrate.

    Thanksgiving Day holds a special place for pastors. I have come to find this is a legal holiday that can also easily be experienced as a holy day. I don't mean a holy day in any official sense, but a day where a holy spirit pervades.

    That holiness is found in the elements of giving thanks, discovering unity and reaching out to others. In truth, it is not that hard to infuse the Christian element of these qualities into a day already special in many people's minds. Holiday traditions can easily become holy traditions.

    Beginning with giving thanks, people already know that this harvest festival has roots in appreciation for the bounty of the earth. At the same time, many 21st-century people struggle to associate the food on the table with its agricultural source.

    Thanking God for food is just the tip of the iceberg of showing appreciation on Thanksgiving Day. With a few reminders, churches can help people learn the goodness of expressing gratitude. People can be reminded to set aside time for prayers of gratitude, especially before the big meal. This can easily draw attention to the many blessings received every day and throughout the year.

    For most Catholic parishes, a morning Mass has become essential for Thanksgiving Day. At our church, we have consciously worked to make this eucharistic celebration a focal point. It is a Mass that emphasizes all the blessings of the year. Furthermore, we work to provide a warm setting where people have a feeling of family.

    Celebrating the Eucharist itself makes sense since that very act is all about giving thanks. The Thanksgiving Day Mass flows from a faith that is filled with gratitude, connecting with every Mass celebrated throughout the year. Giving thanks becomes a prayer of admission of our dependence on a gracious and loving God, a major step of spirituality.

    The act of prayerfully giving thanks also helps us celebrate unity. Although private prayer is good, communal prayer in church or at the dinner table draws people together. We not only thank God for each other, we thank God with each other.

    When we started this parish some 12 years ago without property or building, a small Lutheran Church allowed us use of their space on a regular basis, a kindness for which I remain grateful.

    When the first Thanksgiving was nearing, the pastor asked me what my thoughts were. I knew I wanted to have a parish gathering for prayer. He said his congregation desired to invite us to join them on the Wednesday evening before the holiday for a joint prayer service.

    And to sweeten the offer, he said they have a tradition of having "all things pumpkin" to share afterwards -- pumpkin pies, cakes, breads and more. That evening's gathering reminded me of the traditional image of Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting in unity.

    Finally, the tradition of Thanksgiving Day for many people is to reach out to others, sharing and including those alone or overlooked. Sharing is always an expression of gratitude for what we have. Besides serving free meals at church or community centers, many have found other ways to share.

    Over the years I have brought refugees from other countries to my family's Thanksgiving meal. Exchange students have been present as well. And an elderly neighbor of my brother was always a special guest. All were graciously included.

    By expressing gratitude in prayer, by finding expressions of unity and by sharing with and including others, we can help people create new traditions as we find this holiday becomes even more holy to us.

    (Father Weber is the founding pastor of St. John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg, Ohio.)


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    Imitate the first Thanksgiving with local fare (Recipe included)

    By Nancy Wiechec

    Catholic News Service

    If we take the lead from the first Thanksgiving, our holiday tables should feature the food and people close to us.

    Pilgrims came to the New World knowing little about how to fend for themselves in the new land. They fled England as religious separatists and traveled across waters for new prosperity. But half the Mayflower's hundred or so passengers died during their first New England winter, a particularly harsh one.

    The remaining Pilgrims did better only after the indigenous people gave them direction in hunting, fishing, growing corn and storing stocks for winter. One can imagine that the Pilgrims, devout in their faith, were grateful to God for the native people who befriended them.

    The first Thanksgiving (the name came later) was a celebration of survival, of gifts, of sharing and of gratitude. Colonists and Native Americans feasted on deer meat, fish, clams, fowl and corn -- food they collected from hunts, fishing and planting. What our technological society today calls the slow food movement has its roots in hunter-gatherer and small-farm communities.

    I live in Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountain town is situated on the Colorado Plateau, which offers an abundance of game, farm fresh produce and animals fed from grassy ranch lands. There's a huge diversity of life and people here.

    Local restaurant Brix prides itself on cuisine made with ingredients from the Four Corners region -- Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. I asked Brix chef Logan Webber what might be on his Thanksgiving menu. Here's what he came up using food solely from small Arizona farms and ranches.

    -- Roasted guinea hen with autumn fruit

    -- Roasted baby carrots, beets and fennel with garam marsala

    -- Sweet potato gnocchi with chevre and sage

    -- Chestnut stuffing with fennel sausage and tart cherries

    -- Autumn greens salad with pickled apple vinaigrette, cranberries and walnuts

    Unlike the salt-laden, too-sweet, heavy meal that we're all used to, this Thanksgiving dinner is elegant, flavorful and a reminder that local food is better for you, better for the land and environment, and a tribute to those who toil to feeds us.

    Like the Native Americans and Pilgrims, try sourcing your meal from what is abundant and nearby. Be grateful for the sustenance and the people around you, and enjoy.

    Here is chef Webber's stuffing recipe, utilizing sausage, bread and stock from local purveyors, and herbs and eggs from a nearby farm.


    Servings: 10, plus leftovers

    1 1/2 pounds dried chestnuts

    6 cups diced stale sourdough bread

    4 tablespoons vegetable oil

    2 medium onions, diced small

    6 cloves garlic, minced

    3 tablespoons unsalted butter

    2 pounds sweet fennel sausage

    3/4 cup whole milk

    1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

    1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

    1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

    1/2 cup dried tart cherries

    1/2 cup cognac (optional)

    3 eggs, lightly beaten

    4 cups poultry stock

    Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

    Step 1 (day before serving)

    Clean chestnuts (remove skins). Put chestnuts in small pot and cover with cold water. Simmer for 10 minutes, turn off heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator to soak overnight.

    Step 2 (day before serving)

    Heat oven to 275 degrees. Medium dice bread and season with salt and pepper and toss with vegetable oil. Toast bread on sheet pan for 20 minutes or until toasted, rotate pan halfway through cooking process. Leave out overnight to dry.

    Step 3 (day of serving)

    Heat oven to 425 degrees. Drain soaked chestnuts and chop in food processor (or by knife). Put chestnuts on sheet pan and toast for 30-40 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

    Step 4 (day of serving)

    Sweat onions and garlic in butter over medium heat until translucent. In separate pan, brown sausage and crumble with fork. Soak bread in milk for 10 minutes. Add sausage, sweated onions and garlic, herbs, cherries, cognac (if desired), eggs, chestnuts and half of the stock (use more if too dry) in baking dish. Toss all ingredients together, and season to taste.

    Cover and cook for 35-45 minutes in the 425-degree oven, remove cover and finish for 15-20 minutes or until desired crust.

    (Follow Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.)


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    The Psalms as models for gratitude

    By Nancy de Flon

    Catholic News Service

    A wise person once observed that "gratitude is the aristocrat of attitudes." Gratitude not only shows consideration for the one who gave a gift or did a favor -- it also promotes mental health if we cultivate the habit of gratefulness for things great and small.

    In giving thanks, we mustn't overlook God! Gratefulness to God is at the heart of this attitude, for God has created everything that we are grateful for.

    Several psalms offer invaluable guidance for cultivating this "aristocratic attitude." In modeling how to pray our gratitude, the psalms suggest two major reasons for doing so.

    First, in several psalms of petition the psalmist promises to tell others of the favors received -- to thank the Lord "before the assembly." In voicing our thanks to God for his goodness, we evangelize others.

    Psalm 69, a cry from the depths of distress that became a source for the account of Christ's passion, promises to praise God in song and adds, "The poor when they see it will be glad and God-seeking hearts will revive." The author of Psalm 142, begging for rescue from perfidious friends, says: "Around me the just will assemble because of your goodness to me."

    This theme is reflected in a reading from Mark's Gospel. The man from whom Jesus had driven out many demons begs to be allowed to follow him. Instead Jesus, who prayed the psalms regularly, tells him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you." The man does so, and "everyone was amazed."

    Gratitude psalms range from those composed for a king's victory to psalms of private individuals for unspecified favors. Psalm 18 rings out King David's praise for God, who snatched him from a powerful enemy whose strength he could not match. It closes with the promise: "I will praise you, Lord, among the nations."

    In contrast, Psalm 116 fulfills the promise of an anonymous, grateful petitioner to praise God before all the people. Perhaps this psalm was composed by an "official" psalmist at a grateful person's request, much as we might request a Mass to be said for our intentions.

    Second, expressing gratitude to God increases our confidence that he will hear our prayers again. Psalms of petition often recall God's previous favors and thank him.

    Even Psalm 22 -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -- is suffused with confidence based on God's favors to Israel and on the fact that God has always "heard the poor when they cried." Whatever the person's present trials, the Lord is greater still.

    Communal laments, too, juxtapose the memory of God's favors with pleas for help. Psalm 44 recalls how God "uprooted the nations" to settle the Israelites in the Promised Land. Faced now with new disaster, the people invoke the memories of God's love and beg: "Redeem us!"

    A prayer for Thanksgiving or any time: "God, giver of all that is good, unite us in our gratitude to you, to one another and for your countless gifts."

    (De Flon is editor-at-large at Paulist Press and the author of "The Joy of Praying the Psalms.")


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    Thanksgiving Day Prayer:

    Lord, we thank you

    for the goodness of our people

    and for the spirit of justice

    that fills this nation.

    We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land

    and the challenge of the cities.

    We thank you for our work and our rest,

    for one another, and for our homes.

    We thank you, Lord:

    accept our thanksgiving on this day.

    We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    R: Amen.

    From "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers"



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