As we approach the end of the "24 Days of Thanksgiving" journey, here are four more reasons to give thanks from November 17 through November 20.
November 17: Give Thanks for St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Today is the feast day of another wonderful saint, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Like St. Margaret of Scotland yesterday, St. Elizabeth of Hungary was also royalty.
Ponder: She was born a little more than 100 years after St. Margaret of Scotland, in 1207. She married Louis of Thuringia, and they had 3 children. Elizabeth lived a life of simple service, choosing not to indulge in luxury or ignore the people whom she could help. She is also an example of a person who chose to turn personal tragedy into a life of service.
Elizabeth wore simple clothing and spent her time ministering to the sick and helping the poor. She is known for her saying, " How could I bear a crown of gold, when the Lord bears a crown of thorns? And he bears it for me!" Sadly, Elizabeth's husband died after only 6 years of marriage and her husband's family mistreated her, even finally forcing her to leave the palace. Her husband's allies came to her help, however, and she was reinstated since her son was the legal heir to the throne.
In 1228, Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded. Elizabeth’s health declined, and she died aged only 23, in 1231. She was canonized just four years later.
Elizabeth is often portrayed as a young woman with loaves of bread in her apron, as a reminder of the many loaves of bread she distributed to the poor daily. Sometimes she is shown with roses, instead of bread, pointing to the many miracles attributed to her soon after her death. She is the patroness of widows, brides, Catholic Charities and the Secular Franciscan Order.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for the life and example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. We pray for her continued intercession for the country of Hungary. May we follow her example of faithfulness, even in times of great distress. Amen.
November 18: Give Thanks for Warm Clothes
Ponder: When the wind picks up outside and you can hear it whipping around the door, let's be grateful for warm earmuffs like these.
When the temperature drops, and you know you have outside chores/walks to school/drives in cold cars, let's give thanks for warm mittens like these.
When your nose turns red and starts stinging about 5 minutes after you go outside, let's give thanks for scarves like these.
When the flowers fade from sight and those first frosts settle in, let's give thanks for warm winter coats.
Let's be grateful for all the warm clothes that we have and give to those who don't.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for the many ways you keep us warm, from warm clothes to warm hearts. May we never take these gifts for granted. Amen.
November 19: Give Thanks for Second Chances
Our pastor likes to say that "Our God is the God of Second Chances," (or third, or fourth or even 78th!)
I saw the second-chance mentality in action a few years ago, when I was waiting for a 3rd grade class who were lined up for Reconciliation. One little child asked "Is Father going to judge me and be mad?"
"No," her catechist answered, "He is speaking for Jesus, who is very happy that you are coming to talk to him. You just have to say anything that you feel sorry for."
The young girl nodded, then sighed. "I'm glad I'm doing this." she said. "I have a deep sorrow to talk about."
Putting aside wondering what "deep sorrow" such a young person could possibly have to confess, it was nevertheless inspiring to see such a small person reflect on her actions. She realized she had done something that she wished she had not done, and here was her opportunity to go and make it right.
Ponder: The idea of second chances is not new. In fact, the Old Testament is filled with stories of God giving second chances. That's why there are so many covenants. But one thing that we do often overlook is that in order to be reconciled - to God, to our neighbors and within ourselves - there has to be repentance. Repentance is the key that opens the door of mercy. Only those who realize they have done something wrong, can then also decide to repent of it. It seems rather obvious, but it's surprising how often this step is missed. Then, of course, true repentance is also followed by a change in behavior. Sometimes this change is the real barrier to repentance. We are sorry, sort of, just not enough to change.
As the liturgical year draws to its final few days, and the Mass readings continually focus on the end times and the 2nd coming of Christ, it's good for us to remind ourselves that we don't have to get everything right, all the time and every time. Our God is the God of Second Chances, and as long as we are willing to trust the mercy of Christ, we can always start over.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for your endless mercy and willingness to forgive. Keep us close to you, so that we will seek forgiveness and teach us to imitate you in forgiving others. Amen.
Nov. 20: Give Thanks for Ushers
Ushers? That's an odd thing to be thankful for, right? But, if you think about it, aren't ushers the quintessential symbol of the servant? They are the largely unnoticed helpers who glide about in the back of church, only coming forward at the appropriate times. If you didn't already know the names of the same ushers you see every weekend, you probably still don't know them. That's how ushers are. They quietly serve.Here are some of the things I saw the ushers do this past weekend:
- a child was coughing (and coughing and coughing) during Mass. Suddenly, a friendly arm reached into the pew, offering a cup and a bottle of water to the child.
- latecomers to Mass became the most important people in the world, as the ushers arranged to find seats for them (and they were friendly about it, too, as though now Mass could REALLY start because these wonderful people had arrived!)
- doors were held open
- pathways were created for the altar servers
- after everyone was seated in a very full church, an elderly woman with a walker made her way into the narthex. She was noticed by an usher, who immediately welcomed her and went to ascertain her needs. Should she be seated in the front? Did she need to be near the bathroom? The usher found out the woman also needed a seat for her caregiver, who arrived a few minutes later. Somehow, two more seats were located, and the pair were led to them.
- during communion, the eucharistic ministers were led straight to 3 different people, in different parts of the church, who were unable to walk to communion themselves. The ushers had found these people earlier, told them not to worry and that they would be taken care of, then followed through on that promise by bringing the ministers to them.
Ponder: Watching these people go about their work was truly witnessing a sign of the Kingdom of God. They are all volunteers, who sign up and show up faithfully. They are not helping for their own glory, not in any way. They just want to help people so that everyone can have a good experience of Mass; can participate and pray well and have an encounter with God. Everything in their ministry is about everyone else and everyone else's needs.
The show "Everyone Loves Raymond" poked fun at Raymond's father, in one episode. Ray accused his dad of only wanting to be an usher so that he could hang out in the back to gossip and skip praying. That may be true in the show, but on reflection, have you actually ever seen most ushers blow off what's happening in the Mass? The exact opposite seems to be much closer to the truth. Most of the time, the unseen ushers are very much aware of what is happening, and they maintain an attitude of respect.
Wouldn't it be something if more of us acted like ushers, not just at Mass, but especially when we leave the church and go out into the "mission fields?" Next weekend, notice those men and women who give up their time to serve everyone else in the church, and think about how we can imitate them.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for ushers, whose faithful service helps others to worship you. Amen.
-Fifth and Final Part 5 coming soon!-