Father Thomas More Barba, O.P., BA ’09 ’10, who began serving as UD’s newest campus chaplain in August, shared with us the following reflection of family and friends on the occasion of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a holiday when memories from my childhood dominate my vision. My brother and I helped my mom and dad prepare food to share with our extended families. After Mass, we spent the rest of the day and evening at my two grandparents’ homes often watching the Cowboys game at my grandpa Barba’s because he was an avid fan.
Thanksgiving with both of my extended families followed the same format: everyone cooked or baked something to be served as a buffet. Some of my relatives had staple dishes that I eagerly looked forward to every year, such as my grandpa Pacilla's ham and pumpkin pies and stuffing, my aunt Kelly’s sweet potato dish, my mom’s pecan pies and my aunt Dolores’ cranberries. We never had a formal Thanksgiving meal where we all sat at one table: everyone served themselves, found a place to sit and talked with whomever was next to them. It was a loud, large, delightful and sometimes awkward experience.
Though there are surely many more, my childhood experiences of Thanksgiving taught me three things. The first is seen in the collection and prayer over the offerings for the Mass of Thanksgiving Day in the Roman Missal:
your gifts of love are countless
and your goodness infinite;
as we come before you on Thanksgiving Day
with gratitude for your kindness,
open our hearts to have concern
for every man, woman, and child,
so that we may share your gifts in loving service…
God our Father,
from whose hand we have received generous gifts
so that we might learn to share your blessings in gratitude,
accept these gifts of bread and wine,
and let the perfect sacrifice of Jesus
draw us closer to all our brothers and sisters in the human family…
We are called to give what we have received, to share what we have been given. Everything we have is given to us, and God gives to us so that we may share with others. Authentic gratitude of gifts received is sharing those gifts with others, especially to those who do not have what we enjoy. In my family, everyone shared the gifts they had been given — everyone enjoyed the distinct flavors of my grandma’s pecan pies because she shared her gift.
Each person has something unique to offer to Thanksgiving. This is the second truth I learned: everyone’s gifts are needed. The tables and countertops in my grandparents’ kitchens were filled with different foods each year. Even though we belonged to the same family, it was evident that each dish was made by a different person: for example, the shape, size and brand of the pans and bowls were different. The differences among the food in fact made the dinner delightful. The dinner would be incomplete if even one person did not offer their gifts.
We may think we have nothing to offer, gifts we’re given are not “good enough” or wishing we had been given something different. This leads to the final truth I learned from Thanksgiving: everyone is rich.
If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.
We are all rich: we all have something to share. While these words from Rainer Maria Rilke may seem harsh and slightly self-focused, his words express the truth that no one lacks possessing their own gift. We sell ourselves (and others) short when we believe the lie that we have nothing we can afford to give.
“No one has greater love than this,” says Christ, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Giving ourselves to each other and Christ, in love, is the gift of a treasure surpassing all price. May we be always generous with the gifts we have been given on Thanksgiving.