Unique American holiday a time for giving thanks, giving back

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.

— Taken from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.

Herman D. Ray celebrates the unique American holiday of Thanksgiving as his ancestors once did — by thanking the Creator.

Ray is a member of the Salt River Pima Tribe of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community whose beliefs are grounded in themes of spirituality, love and gratitude.

They are beliefs that marry well with the rich liturgical and sacramental traditions of his Catholic faith.

As a “caretaker of mother earth,” Ray said it’s important to be thankful for the animals and plants given as food and water to quench a thirst.

Even the wind, rain and snow are reasons to be thankful.

“Everything in nature was created by God and that’s why we give thanks because He created those things for the survival of the Native American people,” Ray said.

And that was good news for the Pilgrims who, after arriving to the New World in 1620, were welcomed and taught how to plant and survive the harsh New England winters by Native Americans.

The Pilgrims left England to start a settlement of their own so that they could practice their religion freely, followed by the Puritans 10 years later who were also in search of religious freedom.

Although it’s not a holy day of obligation for Catholics, many choose to attend Mass to hear the particular readings for the holiday that are chosen by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Fr. Kieran Kleczewski, executive director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Phoenix, said there is a calendar for the Church that’s adopted by the USCCB.

He explained that whatever is added to the general Roman calendar, such as a feast, has specific importance to that nation.

“What gets added to the American calendar isn’t necessarily celebrated around the world, but it’s important to the American Catholic Church,” Fr. Kleczewski said, adding, “Two that come to mind that have special prayers written for them are the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.”

Fr. Kleczewski said it’s “odd” setting aside one day labeled as “Thanksgiving” knowing the word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and the Mass is the highest form of prayer.

The Gospel passage for the day is the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers, with only one — a Samaritan — returning to thank Him. “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” He asked, adding “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk 17:11-19).

St. Ambrose was quoted as saying, “no duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks,” and the faithful are compelled to serve others as a show of gratitude by putting their faith into action.

Sweet potatoes destined for pies cool on a rack in the kitchen of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix in this Nov. 17, 2016 file photo. Society staff and volunteers prepare 4,500 meals a day and do more for Thanksgiving and Christmas. St. Vincent de Paul, like André House, regularly carries out the corporal work of mercy of feeding the hungry. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Feeding the hungry

André House in downtown Phoenix is the epitome of spiritual and corporal works of mercy in action — serving more than food.

“People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness in our neighborhood are not starving for food, but starving for real human contact,” said director Holy Cross Father Tom Doyle.

“André House is important not because we serve a meal, but because we try to be a sacrament of God’s love every day of the year.”

While the Pilgrims and Puritans were Protestant, Catholics have their own Thanksgiving history. Spanish missionaries traveling through Arizona on their way to California — essentially homeless and undoubtedly hungry — were greeted by Native Americans who watered their horses and shared their food.

“We always think of Plymouth, but we had our own thanksgiving in the desert,” said Fr. Antony Tinker, FHS, diocesan Native American Ministry director. “Hospitality is something we remember on Thanksgiving.”

Giving thanks ecumenically

Now Thank We All Our God Ecumenical Christian Prayer Service

7 p.m., Nov. 20

St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, 2312 E. Campbell Ave., Phoenix

All are welcome for an evening of prayer, thanksgiving, fellowship and song with music from adult and children’s choirs.

Info: (602) 954-4089

St. Thomas the Apostle Parish is hosting a Thanksgiving prayer service with five local Christian churches the Monday before Thanksgiving to celebrate their commonalities as people of faith, unity in hope and in gratitude of God.

Shirley A. Lowman, volunteer parish ecumenical and inter-religious representative at St. Thomas, began reaching out to church leaders in August.

“By experiencing a Christian, interdenominational service, I believe that all people can better understand that we have more things in common rather than looking solely at the differences,” Lowman said.

Guests are asked to bring a non-perishable item for the St. Vincent de Paul food drive; there will also be an offering for St. Vincent de Paul during the service. Coffee and dessert will be served afterwards.

The service will include an adult and children’s choir formed by members representing all the churches.

Danielle Hyland, music teacher and children’s music director at the parish, said she’s excited to “minister” through music.

“I know the Lord is pleased to see His people coming together to worship Him and pray together, especially in these times where our nation is so divided.”