Thanksgiving 2017 is all but a memory. The dark meat and white meat; the stuffing and cranberries; the potatoes and pies are a part of that memory, together with the table talk among family and friends.
My 95-year-old aunt and I had the good fortune of sharing two Thanksgiving dinners. One was at the Little Sisters of the Poor, where I had Mass that day and where my godmother lives. The other was with treasured friends, their children and grandchildren.
For almost a half-century, my friends, Joyce and John, have been an important part of my life. They were so good in helping my mom and dad, and they continue to be a help to my aunt. Together we’ve shared lots of ups. And lots of downs.
Typically, when I leave their home after any dinner (which really aren’t dinners as much as they are feasts), Joyce packs a generous care package. She did so again after this year’s Thanksgiving feast.
My guess is, if you were a guest at the table of family or friends, more than likely you got some “turkey to go.”
But isn’t it true that that’s only a part of our takeaway from Thanksgiving, and, to be honest, the lesser part of what our national holiday is all about?
“Jump start” for my heart
Thinking back on the pilgrims in 1621, the food was scarce, but not the faith. In hard and harsh times, the pilgrims gathered around the table to place their trust in God and to share their hearts with one another and with the Native Americans who had welcomed and aided them.
For them, the “turkey to go” was not the takeaway of leftover food. For them, the “turkey to go” was the stuff of the heart, their care and concern for each other, especially at a time of great need.
This year’s Thanksgiving will long linger in my mind as it was a “jump start” for my heart.
What I saw among the people of our church and of the wider community showed me that On Mission for The Church Alive! is more than a dream. So many people are eager to step out in love and serve others.
Several thousand of us gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center the day after Turkey Day to stir up the stuff of each other’s hearts. The event was called Amen to Action.
With the inspiration of our good friend and man of the church, Reid Carpenter, and the immense help of Meals of Hope in Naples, Florida, 3,000 people from our church and from a number of other denominations shared the real “turkey to go.” That real “turkey to go” is our care and concern for others, many others, who don’t know where their next meal will come from.
The 3,000 of us who worked together on Black Friday kept our credit cards in our purses and wallets so that we could buy something better than big bargains. We, together, bought hope for the hopeless, for more than a million people!
Yes. It’s true. After we gathered for prayer and praise, we rolled up our sleeves, put on our aprons and hairnets (all of us, gals and guys alike) and packed more than 1 million meals of nutritious food for thousands of people served by food banks in our local neighborhoods.
The dream that came true on Black Friday was born out of four prayer gatherings convened by Reid Carpenter, Father Joe Mele and myself at St. Paul Seminary. Those four prayer gatherings were, in turn, born out of a felt need to pray across denominational divides. We felt this deeply because the world is becoming more divided; the language among us more caustic; the walls between us higher. The commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the great divide of the Reformation was also one of those “jump start” moments.
From our first meeting in 2016, our prayer group grew and brought us to the eve of Lent this year. Our prayer moved us to Action.
And so Black Friday became Amen to Action. In a very real way, it was our collective “turkey to go,” our Thanksgiving on the move.
But Amen to Action is just the newest venture in “turkey to go.” Other such ventures have been honored traditions for decades.
Faith into action
Just a few hours after we finished packing food at Amen to Action, I spent the evening with 1,300 people who had gathered at the Wyndham Grand Hotel to honor 134 high school ladies. These young women had each volunteered hours and hours of service during their high school years to help others in need. It was a grand celebration of “turkey to go” for Thanksgiving on the move.
The Medallion Ball was born 54 years ago out of a faith conviction of several great ladies of the church. They knew that prayer is essential to faith, but not enough. Actions speak louder than words. Thus, those dear ladies of an earlier generation anticipated the notion of Amen to Action. More than a half-century since the establishment of the Medallion Ball, thousands of high school ladies have volunteered to put their faith into action by helping countless others in need.
As I consider both the venerable Medallion Ball and the newly minted Amen to Action, I invite you to see once again what it means to be On Mission for The Church Alive! Our goal in On Mission is to keep that active faith at the forefront of our parishes and homes. We need to ask ourselves: Where and what is our “turkey to go,” our Thanksgiving on the move, as we step into Advent, Christmas and a new year?
The number of people in need is on the rise! They are throughout southwestern Pennsylvania in our schools and in our workplaces, in our churches and in our neighborhoods.
At this time in our history, when talk of war is escalating, when shocking violence erupts daily; when political battles paralyze leadership; when more energy is poured into building walls than building bridges — what can you and I do to bring healing? A good place to start might be for us — you and me — to be slow to pull out our credit cards for binge spending and quick to buy hope for others by unlocking our hearts.
That, my friends, can be our “turkey to go,” our Thanksgiving on the move, our Amen to Action.