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The cost of Thanksgiving
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Last Thursday, I was scrambling to keep an appointment with kids at Stagg High School in Stockton.  The Spanish Club was meeting to finalize plans for Thanksgiving.  They had decided to adopt a family.  Each would bring an essential ingredient for the traditional meal to our church on Wednesday.

My job would be to identify the family in need and arrange the delivery.

Until then, though the holiday was just a week ahead, I really hadn’t had time or mental space to think about this wonderful American tradition.   So I flew out the back door with enthusiasm.  These generous students would challenge me to get on board.  But, before long, two people beat them to it.

As I descended the steps, a stranger approached from the street.  “Father,” he said, “I need to talk with you.”  Now nine times out of ten, this translates as, “I need money,” a familiar theme with countless convincing variations.

“I’m running late for a really important meeting,” I said, afraid that those kids at Stagg would be gone before I arrived.  Yet I couldn’t help recalling a parable Jesus once told about a priest who didn’t have time for compassion.  So I stopped in my tracks and asked the poor fellow what he wanted.

“I’m really hungry,” he confessed.  “Sorry, we’ve given away all the food we have left,” I said. -We avoid giving out cash, as it rarely turns into food.

Suddenly, I recalled a small plate of turkey that had survived the previous evening, when our choir came in after practice. Heating it in the microwave and adding hot coffee and toasted bread, I presented the man his little feast.  

He looked at me with disbelief, then sat down by Our Lady’s shrine to eat.

“There’s the garbage can for when you’re done,” I yelled over my shoulder.

I’d be lucky if I could make Stagg on time.  It seems a thousand details had to be cleared before I could do the most important thing - that is, making time for the youth.  Now the garage door was opening, and my trusty steed prepared to gallop northbound on El Dorado.   Yet then it happened again:  
This time the visitor had something to give
“Hey, Father!  Please wait!”  Another man approached the large steel gate, just as the first fellow had.  But this time, the visitor had something to give.

“You folks need two turkeys?” (He shouldn’t have put it that way, since he left himself and the other gentlemen wide open for a really mean answer.)

Instead, I recalled how Jesus had promised that we would receive in the measure we gave, and how Paul said we’d reap in the measure that we sow.

God’s economy had turned a plate of turkey into two entire birds, and unexpected delays into timeless blessings.  Throwing the frozen turkeys in the freezer, I sped off northbound for Stagg High School.   On the way, my cellular rang.  The director of a local funeral home had decisions to make.

At ten o’clock Tuesday night, I’d been called to the hospital for a fatality.  A young father had walked to a neighborhood store to buy popsicles for his three children, I was told, and on the way home was shot point blank.

Though I couldn’t gain access to bless his body, the police there confirmed that yes, he had been shot, and that yes, he was dead.  His family would be spending a miserable Thanksgiving, not even seeing him until November 27, the day hundreds will gather in our church for the viewing and funeral.
Bad week in Stockton
This had been a bad week in Stockton.  Just three days before, four separate shootings in Stockton had produced a number of victims.  One casualty was from our parish: the young man killed at 2 o’clock Saturday morning.

We had just set his funeral when Antonio was murdered.  So by the time I arrived at Stagg’s Spanish Club, any illusions of a Norman Rockwell-style Thanksgiving had long since been blown to pieces.  The last thing on my mind was delivering turkeys. Besides, many Mexicans don’t even eat them.

Explaining why I’d arrived so late, I suggested the Mexican Club channel their compassion in the direction of Antonio’s family.  Providentially, they had just walked into the funeral home after the director and I hung up.  So my phone buzzed at the same time as I made my proposal to the group.  I asked for the victim’s mother, and put her in touch with the group’s leader.

Suddenly what began as a kind gesture on the part of the students at Stagg turned into an effort to discover how best to help this broken family meet their needs.  Since there have been changes in our strategy over the past few days, I won’t share more, except to say that the kids stepped up to the plate.

Like the Indians who helped out the Pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving celebration, when only 53 of the original 102 passengers on the Mayflower were still alive to show their gratitude, these youth went beyond the food and the fun to the heart of this beautiful holiday: the national recognition, articulated best by President Abraham Lincoln, that our blessings and our bounty are not the products of our own effort or ingenuity, but of Grace.

They acknowledged, by their concern, that Thanksgiving means going beyond one’s comfort zone into the needs and the heartaches of others.  It also means being willing to pay the price for another person’s blessings.

Google “The Price of Thanksgiving”, and all you’ll find is talk about food.

But check out the history of Plymouth Colony, and you’ll learn something else.  That piece of information might help us live our Thanksgiving better.

For when we realize what God has done for us, we want to give back, somehow, so that someone else, somewhere, will have reason for thanksgiving.