Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks-giving Recipe

Back when the Avon Lady and the Fuller Brush Man plied their trade door-to-door, the Daughters of St. Paul adopted this model as a form of evangelizing outreach. We brought our books and audio materials with us (cassettes and records at that time), which people often bought. We didn’t skip anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. If someone didn’t choose a title for whatever reason, we offered to leave inspirational leaflets or pamphlets with them. Almost everyone accepted these, especially when we promised to pray for them.

From an evangelizing perspective, this accomplished at least two things: What we left behind reminded people of the grace that God gave them through our brief visit, which continued to bless their lives even after we had left; and it was far less confrontational than: “Do you believe in Jesus?” More times than I can remember, the books and magazines we showed served as a forum for their own personal sharing and growth.

Just like one man we met about 25 years ago. Another sister and I were visiting the showroom owners and operators at the Merchandise Mart downtown Chicago. The man was standing in the doorway of his business as we walked down the hall toward him. We sensed he wasn’t Catholic as we explained who we were and what we were about. Cordially he refused, but as he took the few prayer cards and leaflets we offered, he exclaimed, “But I don’t know how to pray!”
“These will get you started,” I answered.
“But I don’t need anything.”
“Prayer isn’t just about asking. Do you have something you can thank God for?”
He looked startled. “It’s been so long since I’ve prayed,” he said mulling it over, “but yes, I do.”
He smiled slightly and, totally oblivious to the fact that we were leaving, he started murmuring, “A lot to be thankful for: my family, my business, my health….”

You would think that appreciation would come spontaneously to anyone who receives something good. As any parent of a toddler knows, though, “say thank you” is a prompt even we adults need more often than we get. A thankful heart is itself a gift, and when God is blessed in our thanks, God, not to be outdone, blesses us back.

Thanksgiving Day has been the last spiritual bastion in the yearly confederation of American holidays. Christmas caved into commercialism decades ago, and Easter followed suit. Let’s not even talk about St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Until recently, even in spite of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the traditional shopping the day after, Thanksgiving Day itself remained hallowed. Now with big box stores opening in the middle of Thursday night, “Black Friday” and its mad scrambles invade the whole week, including the sacrosanct holiday. I read last week that a woman was glad one store was opening before midnight, so she wouldn’t be “forced” to wait out in the parking lot until morning. We don’t need to take to the streets in protest of this desensitizing process, but we can resolve not to jump in and to help others keep from losing their sanity.

Gratitude springs from a humble heart that tempers our spirit of entitlement and competition. It enables us to recognize the giftedness in everything, even in the things where the blessing is disguised. Suffering has a way of mellowing us into gratitude for the good days we have, and hope keeps us on the lookout both for more reasons to rejoice and ways to share joy with others. I was in New York yesterday and watched a man cheerfully help a blind woman—a complete stranger—cross 34th St. near Madison Square Garden. Then he turned around and crossed back to the corner where he had been standing. He wasn’t even going her way.

This is the spirit I heard in Sr. Mary Frances’s story in Staten Island. Sunday she and some volunteers held a book and media display, or fair, at a New York church. A man originally from Italy stopped to tell her that he had been orphaned very young. Relatives took him in, and when he was old enough, he entered the Society of St. Paul, thinking he might have a vocation as a son of Fr. Alberione. It seemed that God was calling him to the U.S., though, as a layman. He settled in New York City, married, and got a job as a printer on Wall Street, thanks to the training in lithography he had received with the Paulines. He was visibly moved as he told Sr. Mary Frances that he would “always be grateful to the Society of St. Paul” for everything he had gained during his life with the brothers. Though it’s not always so poignant, we often hear the same from young women who have shared in our life during their initial years of discernment and formation and have heard God’s call elsewhere. We and the young women who remain are blessed to have them among us, and they develop skills, faith values, and self-discipline for life, which grow their love into eternity.

We often tell our donors and benefactors that, in appreciation for them, we pray for all their needs, but especially for the one thing necessary: a saving relationship with Jesus here and hereafter: “We ask you, O Lord, for your name’s sake, to reward our benefactors with eternal life. Amen.” One friend claimed not to be satisfied with the spiritual help and used to threaten that he and his family would turn to the Franciscans if our prayers didn’t work! Now that he’s in eternity with God (I think that’s a safe assumption), I bet he’s grateful for the “eternal life” part of those prayers!

We may not go door-to-door as we once did, but as our communal testimony and our media products and services enter hands, cars, businesses, churches, schools, and homes, the Gospel values we communicate and our prayer of gratitude and hope is the same. May you always share the reason for our joy—a grateful heart!

Sr. Tracey gets the message across
at the Staten Island concert, 2010.

Next week begins the 2011 concert season of the Daughters of St. Paul Choir—Our Christmas Hope. Eight fun and inspiring performances in four states bring these days to life in the truest sense of the word! Proceeds from any fundraising concerts benefit the Daughters of St. Paul infirmary and the construction of our sisters’ assisted living center. Click here for a schedule and music video.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sr. Margaret,

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and all the Daughters of St. Paul. Indeed, there are many gifts we have received from God starting with the gift of life. A million thanks to the Daughters of St. Paul for the prayers and good work you all do, particularly in helping people to follow Jesus Christ, Divine Master, Way, Truth & Life.

    Margie Skeels


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