Dear Vincentian Friends,
Almost 40 years ago, I was part of a group that started a free community meal program. In the beginning, many of our guests were homeless and living on the streets. On one occasion, one of my fellow organizers pulled a man aside to address some behavior issues and concluded by telling the guest, “You only have one job here and that is to be grateful, and you are not doing that very well.”
As the years passed, this friend and I realized that the pithy comment we once thought was on-target no longer matched our hoped-for relationships with meal program guests. How different that comment is from what our Rule tells us in the section titled “Gratitude to those we visit.” This is where we read, “Vincentians never forget the many blessings they receive from those they visit. They recognize that the fruit of their labors springs, not from themselves, but especially from God and from the poor they serve.”
Often, we think of being grateful for material things – the stuff we have. That’s maybe why we often expect those we serve to be grateful; we are providing “stuff” for free. We eventually learn, however, that what we are most grateful for are the relationships we have with family, friends, and those we serve, and – most importantly – with our God. I am grateful for my daily bread, for a warm place to live, for meaningful work and for beautiful sunsets. I think all of these blessings are more meaningful, however, when I have someone with whom I can share them.
Giving thanks is not just for a once-a-year holiday. It is something we should do always and everywhere. Those are words we hear at Mass to begin the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayers. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.” What are we thanking God for? Is it for food, clothing, or the beauty of the earth? No, the Eucharistic text goes on to tell us that we give thanks for Jesus, who was sent to us to restore our relationship with God, and that we should be grateful for this always and everywhere.
This Thanksgiving week I hope you give thanks not only for the material blessings we enjoy but also for the relationships that enrich our lives. I appreciate the gifts I have received from everyone I have met this year, and I am grateful for you and the relationship we have in the network of charity that we have inherited from our founders.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President