A story for Thanksgiving that serves as the climax of the last chapter of A Smile for Anna:
“I am blessed, and I am thankful for the blessing!” the priest’s words caught my ear just I found myself drifting during the homily.
“I’ll say that again, now that I’ve got your attention.”
A scattering of laughter dashed around the room. The priest was a big man with a booming voice and he knew when to use it.
“I am blessed,” the priest repeated, “and I am thankful for the blessing. I’d never heard that phrase before I came here nine years ago; the first time I heard it, it really struck me. There was a family in our Spanish-speaking congregation, though they spoke English pretty well too.”
He stepped away from the pulpit and his written homily and walked out in front of the altar.
“The father had just been laid off of work—this was during the last recession, in 2001—and he had four kids to support. His wife had taught elementary school but once the kids came along, she decided to stay at home. He had a good job and they had just bought a house. Then he got laid off. They were really struggling—one of their daughters had to have surgery—and this all happened in the span of a few months. Well, some of the people here took up a collection to help out with bills and the word spread to our parish school. They had just been given a grant from the estate of a parishioner, and they needed a new first-grade teacher so they hired his wife. And he got to stay home with kids. Let me tell you, that was a big adjustment.”
A few more laughs bounced around the apse of the church.
“But you know what he told me? It was the greatest blessing he’d ever received. He got to spend time with his kids—time he never expected to have with them—and he loved it. After a couple of years, he went back to work, but he told me he’d never trade that time he had with his kids for anything. He grew to appreciate time with his children more, and to appreciate all that his wife had done raising their kids.
“And he told me, no matter what happens he could say ‘I am blessed, and I am thankful for the blessing.’ And that has stuck with me ever since. This has been an awful year, and it’s hard to find things to be thankful for. But look around you. Look up at that crucifix above the altar and know how much God loves you. Look outside and see the sparrows and the lilies and know how much God loves you. Look around at your family, your friends, all the people that matter in your life and know how much God loves you.”
“It’s like Saint Paul said in today’s epistle, if I may paraphrase: Give thanks to God always for the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus. Or to put it another way: We are blessed, and we are all thankful for the blessing.” He made the Sign of the Cross: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
May you have blessed and joyful Thanksgiving.