On Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving

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As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables to enjoy the benefits of this uniquely American holiday–from the turkey to the cornbread dressing to the sweet potato pie–many of us will spend time reflecting on life’s blessings.

We’ll rightly think of our neighbors, our friends, and our family–all those who bring richness into our lives. Or we’ll think about our great state of Arkansas, with its abundant natural resources and its millions of acres of fertile farmland. Or we’ll give thanks for our good health.

Of course, an attitude of humble gratitude is fundamental for anyone who follows Jesus. Jesus gives us the bread from heaven, the bread of eternal life, as a sacrifice. “Do this in memory of me,” he tells the disciples before his crucifixion.

It’s in the Eucharist that we see the hand of God’s saving providence, and we are grateful. The very word Eucharist means Thanksgiving in the original Greek.

But even beyond our gratitude, I hope this Thanksgiving will invoke in us a spirit of sharing. And that we’ll take time to inquire about how we can alleviate the suffering of others.

As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Especially in the age of covid-19, the needs of the vulnerable grow by the day.

Think of how the pandemic has interrupted supply chains in countries already coping with chronic poverty, armed conflicts, and the devastating impacts of climate change. These threats have left an estimated 45 million people, more than 13 times the population of Arkansas, at the brink of starvation.

What can we do, then, on this Thanksgiving to help our brothers and sisters in need?

For one, we can volunteer our time at a local food pantry or shelter. We can also donate our money to faith-based and other reputable nonprofits that work tirelessly to support impoverished communities. For example, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on whose board of directors I serve and which was founded by the United States bishops in 1943, provides food, shelter, water, emergency relief, and agricultural programming in over 100 countries around the world.

We can also raise our voices by calling on Congress to fund programs that fight the scourges of hunger and poverty. For example, we can urge Congress to increase funding for programming such as Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole Food for Education, which save lives every day. In addition, we can ask Congress to prioritize the poor when they re-authorize the Farm Bill and the Global Food Security Act.

Make no mistake, if doing for others sounds like a lot to ask, it is. But as the pope himself reminds us, we are one human family.

As he writes in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, “A worldwide tragedy like the covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.”

Amid the busy-ness of our lives, it’s easy to forget that we are inherently interdependent. For instance, maybe you were awakened by an alarm clock made by a Swiss mechanic, or you crawled out of bed from between sheets made of cotton raised in the Arkansas Delta. Or your cereal came from an Oklahoma wheat field, or your coffee from a Guatemalan plantation.

It’s astounding to think that these types of products help us get through our days but are made by people whose efforts enrich our lives, people we’ll never know–and we have a corresponding obligation to do what we can to enrich the lives of others.

All genuine gratefulness begins in remembrance. In remembering that the lion’s share of our good fortune comes to us through the goodness of God and the goodness of others.

So, as we celebrate around our Thanksgiving tables, let us be grateful and humble as we give thanks for the Lord’s blessings. As the Bible says, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (Corinthians 9:11)

Anthony B. Taylor is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock.

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