Prayers for Thanksgiving Day

“Sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts, always thanking God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 5, 19-20.

In the collect for Thanksgiving Day in the New Roman Missal we pray to God whose “gifts of love are countless…with gratitude for your kindness.”  But gratitude leads us to ask   God to “open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman and child, so that we may share your gifts in loving service.”   Receiving leads to giving.

In the preface of the Mass  we thank God for the “great gift  of freedom, a gift that calls forth responsibility and commitment to the truth that all have a fundamental dignity before you.”  So freedom leads to service of others. “ Help us, we pray, to reach out in love to all your people, so that we may share with them the good things of time and eternity.” (Prayer after Communion)

If we look at thanksgiving that way, I suppose that’s what Meister Eckhart  meant when he said “If the only prayer that you said in your entire life is Thank You, that would suffice.”

O God, your gifts of love are countless

and we thank you for them all.

May our hearts be concerned  like yours for every man, woman and child,

that we might share your gifts with them,

gifts of time and eternity.

Bless the gifts of food and drink we share at this table.

Bless those who prepared them for us,

Bless those we’re called to serve, O Lord, through Jesus Christ.

We give you thanks. Amen.

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Saving Santa Claus

Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade is Thursday and the key figure, of course, is Santa Claus. He will go from the parade into the store to become a salesman for Black Friday and the rest of the days till Christmas.

But he’s more than that, isn’t he?

My good friend, Mauro DeTrizio, whose family comes from Bari, Italy, has had a lifelong devotion to St. Nicholas. He’s also a good videographer and his dream has been to produce a video on St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus.

So we teamed up to produce a couple of them as part of our campaign for saving Santa Claus. He’s more than a salesman; he’s a saint, and he reminds us that Christmas, more than a season for getting, is a time for giving. His quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways to save him from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the others. First, take  a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:


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Christ, the King

Audio for the homily below:

In one of his songs, Bruce Springteen sings,

“Poor man wanna be rich,

Rich man wanna be king.

And a king ain’t satisfied

Till he rule over everything.”

That’s the normal road power takes, isn’t it? But it wasn’t the road Jesus Christ took. He ended up a poor man on a cross who had nothing. On either side of him were two criminals who also had nothing– except the prospect of death.

Jesus becomes the king of the poor, the God of the needy, our gospel today says. He speaks in their behalf and he judges others by what they have done to them. What’s more, he claims that when we help those in need, we meet him.

“I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was sick, I was in prison, I was a stranger.”

“When did we see you thirsty, hungry, sick, in prison, a stranger?” those who come before him ask–and we are among them. “When you did it to the least, “ Jesus says.

Mother Teresa had a beautiful response for those who wondered how she kept doing so much for the poor. “We must see Christ in disguise,” she said. Her words are good advice for us who wish to do what this gospel says we should.

We have to see Christ in disguise, not simply a figure from some far off past, or a heavenly presence beyond our reach. He is close to us, as close as the one beside us at home or just outside our door, who needs one of the simple gifts we can give.

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The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

November 21

Some are uncomfortable with the story of the presentation of Mary in the temple, because it’s not found in scripture, but rather in the apocryphal gospel of James. According to that source, Mary was born in Jerusalem; her father Joachim provided lambs for sacrifice in the temple. He and his wife Ann were childless until, at the promise of an angel, they are blessed with a daughter. When she is three years old, they present Mary in the temple where she is raised among virgins.

A tradition related to that story says that the ancient church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, almost adjacent to the temple, marks the place where Mary was born. That’s not the only tradition about her birthplace, of course, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also make that claim.

Our feast originates in the church of Jerusalem, where it was celebrated from early times. If you look at the substance of the story–which I tend to do– it says basically that Mary was closely connected to the temple in Jerusalem, a claim Luke’s gospel seems to support in some degree. He says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. So, couldn’t Mary’s family be connected there too?

Luke links Mary to the temple a number of times. She and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) 40 days after Jesus is born, to present him to God. It wasn’t necessary for them to go to the temple for that purpose, but they do.

Luke also says Mary and Joseph customarily brought Jesus from childhood to the temple to celebrate the feasts. I don’t think the temple was a dark place of seclusion for her. It must have been  familiar to her from the time she was a little girl. She believed God was present there, and so it was important to bring her Child to this place. It was a place of spiritual teaching; prophets spoke in its courtyard and the world was welcome there. The old man Simeon spoke to her there and Israel’s beliefs were expressed there.

In words constantly repeated in the psalms:   

“The Lord is in his holy temple,

The Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11)

So later, when her Son spoke of his “father’s house,”  can we hear Mary’s voice introducing him to this holy place.  He would engage its teachers and speak about his own mission as he celebrated its feasts. He cleansed this place in a dramatic, symbolic action. He celebrated his last supper nearby and he would die as the lambs from the temple were being sacrificed.

Jesus became the new temple.

We will be beginning the advent season soon, when we’ll hear the voices of the prophets promising the One to come as the savior of his people and calling all nations to climb the mountain of the Lord and enter his holy temple. This feast reminds us of Mary’s part in his coming and the vital role she played.


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The Sacrament of Penance

Prodigal son

Penance is a neglected sacrament in our church today. Few Catholics receive it. It was among the last sacramental rites to be revised after the Second Vatican Council and little catechesis accompanied its introduction. The Mass, with its changes in language and form, got most attention after the council. It seems to me that Penance needs to be better known and better celebrated.

Like the Mass, this sacrament has different names. It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of Penance and also Confession. Each term describes something about it.

It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation because God shows us mercy here, a mercy that reconciles us to him and to our world. The prayer the priest prays after the penitent confesses sin explains the sacrament:

“God the Father of mercies through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church may God grant you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sin in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Reason can point to a God all-powerful and infinitely wise, but faith says God is “the Father of mercies.” God reveals himself as merciful in Jesus Christ who died and rose again from the dead. Appearing to his fearful disciples on Easter Sunday evening he said to them:

“’Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20,19-23)

God is merciful and mercy brings “pardon and peace.” The mercy of God is a favorite theme Pope Francis stresses today in his preaching and ministry. It is a prominent theme in the recent Synod on the Family. We need to believe in it.

Besides the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament is called the Sacrament of Penance. To do penance is to try to heal the wounds and damage we have caused through what we have done or left undone in life. The penance given the penitent by the priest in confession is part of a life-long way of penance. We’re also part of a church that must be always penitential, a church always needing to be reformed.

The sacrament is called Confession because we look at ourselves in the light of God’s word and try to uncover and express what are our sins and how they prevent us from loving God and neighbor as we should.

Reconciliation, Penance, Confession. The simple steps taken in this sacrament are concrete expressions of these themes. We can confess individually, probably the most familiar way, or as part of a group. There are two ways for celebrating the sacrament in groups, one ending with individual absolution, the other with general absolution.

Briefly, individual confession before a priest can be done either kneeling or face to face. It begins with the Sign of the Cross, a sign of God’s blessing and God’s presence. Then there is a short reflection on God’s word so that we might know our sins and be encouraged to confess them to our God. This step should also take place in our preparation for confession.

We express our sins to the priest, receive a penance from him and pray that God forgive us.

The priest then declares the mercy of God and the grace of pardon and peace in the prayer mentioned above.

The sacrament concludes with an expression of thanksgiving to God, who is merciful.

A fuller treatment of the Sacrament of Penance can be found in The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults,  now free online.


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Mercy Comes to Your House


Luke often tells stories of God’s mercy. Today we’re reading at Mass the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho. He was a wealthy man whom Jesus called down from a tree and stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. His story offers a special lesson in what God’s mercy means. (Luke 19, 1-10)

As chief-tax collector, Zacchaeus was an agent for Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea in Jesus’ day. As archeologists uncover the ruins of Herod’s building projects in Galilee and elsewhere, it’s evident he built on a grand scale and lavishly, to impress his allies the Romans.

You needed money for his kind of building, of course, and that’s where tax-collectors came in. There was no dialogue or voting on government spending then. Herod told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need; you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers around Nazareth and the shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the merchants in Jericho and get what I need; I don’t care how you get it out of them.”

And so the tax collectors went out and got the money, keeping some for themselves. You needed to be tough and relentless for the job. It left you hard headed and hard hearted. An unsavory profession. People resented them.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, was the one whom Jesus called and the one he stayed with on his way to Jerusalem.

The only thing Jesus says is: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No thunderous warnings or stern corrections. Salvation has come and they sit down for a feast. You can hear in the story echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also from Luke’s gospel.

Notice, too, that Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus to follow him, as he told another tax-collector, Matthew. He doesn’t tell him to give up his job and get out of that dirty, complicated situation. No, as far as we can tell Zacchaeus was still chief tax-collector in Jericho after Jesus left, still taking orders from Herod Antipas, still part of a sinful world. But that’s where Zacchaeus will experience salvation, even there.

God’s mercy works in the real world and in real life.







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Sloth: the Burial of a Talent

Last Sunday at Mass we read the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25,14-30 and this week we’ll read it again on Wednesday as it’s found with some differences in Luke’s Gospel. It’s also found in a much shorter version in Mark 13, 34. I like this comment that came to this blog yesterday.

“The parable of the Talents I have always found hard to understand. The most common interpretation always being that we should always use the talents that God gives us and use them to glorify Him. I agree with that wholeheartedly. But I also identify with the third servant. Although his master trusted him, he didn’t really feel worthy. He was afraid. Afraid of failing. Afraid that his master’s money would be lost because of his poor investments. It’s a very human way to feel. So it was hard for me not to see a more compassionate master. Wouldn’t Jesus have forgiven his fear?”

Why is Jesus so hard on the servant with one talent? A crucial point in the parable is that the Master entrusts talents to his servants according to what they can do. He gives to each one “according to his ability,” Matthew says. God certainly doesn’t expect anyone to do what’s beyond one’s ability, but God does expect us to use what we have, to trade till he comes, to live responsibly.

This is a lazy servant, who could do something and doesn’t do it. In a subtle way he blames his Master instead of himself. I suppose we might say, he’s guilty of sloth.

Sloth doesn’t seem to be a big sin. Pride, lust, anger, envy are more notorious. But sloth brings on inertia, uncaring, non-involvement that prevents the coming of the kingdom.

St. Paul the Apostle saw it as a problem in his community at Thessalonika, it seems. “Anyone who would not work, should not eat. We hear that some of you are unruly, not keeping busy, but acting like busy-bodies. We enjoin all such, and we urge the strongly in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn the food they eat by working quietly. You must never grow weary of doing what’s right, brothers.” 2 Thessalonians, 3, 10-13)

Sloth buries the talent God gives.


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