The setting is the St. Anthony’s Shelter for Renewal in the South Bronx. It’s 8 o’clock in the evening, the night before Thanksgiving day. Outside the cold is biting and the snow is threatening. Inside are warm bodies and full stomachs. Outside our familiar Bronx Automotive Quartet sings it song—an urban melody of car alarms and police/fire/ambulance sirens. Inside is an atmosphere of peace, stillness, and laughter. It is a special night in a special place.
Early after our founding in 1987 we began the tradition of making sure Thanksgiving was a particularly special time for the men staying at our homeless shelter. Thanksgiving day they will all have the chance to sleep in and spend the day in the warmth of the shelter. Thanksgiving night, through the generosity of many kind souls, we will be able to share with them a proper Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings.
Thanksgiving Eve, however, is hard to beat.
We all gather together in the shelter’s “family room.” One of the friars shares a little word on giving thanks and always makes sure to express, on behalf of all of the friars, how grateful we are for our brother-guests and the opportunity to “live family” with them. Then the floor is opened up and each of the men have the chance to express their own gratitude. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful scene. There are no empty words or pious platitudes spoken these evenings. No masks are worn or games played. Thanksgiving is given for a bed, for a warm shower, for a place where they know they are safe. Thanksgiving is given for sobriety, for a second chance, for friendship. Most importantly, thanksgiving is given to God for his goodness, his compassion, and his gift of salvation. These are “saved” men – saved from the cold, saved from addiction, saved from isolation, saved from hopelessness, and saved from sin. There is nothing like the thanksgiving of the saved.
We, too, are a thanksgiving people. During the Mass the Church puts the following words on the lips of the priest, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ out Lord.” These also are not empty words or pious platitudes. These are profoundly challenging and provocative words, but most importantly, they are true. The men of St. Anthony’s Shelter experience materially what is the spiritual reality of each of us. We are a people offered salvation. We are a people offered a second chance. We are a people of eternal hope. We are a Eucharistic people.
May our thanksgiving this season be true
and unshakeable. May it be authentically Christian. And may it be truly
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I have followed the CFR Friars enthusiastically since 1987. May God continue to bless their ministry and that of Word on Fire!❤️?
Beautiful perspective and meditation on Thanksgiving. It helped me realize how blessed I am by God Who has been so generous to me and how easily I forget it!
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