Disclaimer right from the start, I am partially ripping this week's blog post off from a homily I heard this weekend, because it was just so darn good (thank you, Father). This weekend's Gospel was perfectly timed. Do you ever feel that way? Every once in a while, we hear the Sunday Gospel and think, "wow, this is just so perfect for what I'm/we're experiencing right now."
It's almost as if someone planned it that way! God often uses our liturgical calendar to bring us just the right message at just the right time. The Gospel from this past Sunday (that of the corporal works of mercy and "the least of these," if you zoned out) is just spot-on for us today.
Why is it so relevant? There's a number of reasons. First and foremost, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It will (and should) look different this year. We all need to make our own differential risk assessments about whom we should celebrate with and where we should celebrate.
It stinks, and it's hard, but we need to make some hard choices right now. Either way you slice it, Thanksgiving is not far away! It's a special holiday for us, both as Americans and Catholics (and football fans). It symbolizes gratitude, family, and togetherness. In short, it's a celebration of much of what makes life worth living.
And that's not even touching on the FOOD! Thanksgiving food is, in a word, impeccable. It's strange that we have so much love for dishes that many of us only eat once a year (seriously, how often do you have stuffing and cranberry sauce outside the month of November?), but it's also comforting. There's something reassuring about knowing that, once a year, we can dig into these special foods.
Don't believe me? Just look at the Internet. One of my favorite memes that makes the rounds every Thanksgiving is the remix of Shirley Caesar, a gospel singer and Protestant minister, singing about "beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes," etc.
It's generally referenced as the answer to the question, "what are you having for Thanksgiving?" I can't do it justice through text, so I'll just link it here. It's a jam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB9FrK2jMs4
Okay, so we've established that Thanksgiving is the bomb, but that doesn't really tie into the Gospel specifically. What does tie in is another Thanksgiving staple: charity. Thanksgiving is a big time of year for various charities, and requests for food, clothing, and financial donations often increase each November.
Charity is a big part of Thanksgiving for Catholics, as it should be. Because charity is a form of mercy, the exact thing that Jesus calls us to in this past weekend's Gospel. We are called to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the oppressed, and much more.
Let's be clear about this. These are not "nice things" for Christians to do every once in a while. Nope, nope, and nope again. These works of mercy are our DUTY as followers of the Lord. In fact, Jesus does not mince words when He tells us how important these precepts are.
In fact, He even goes so far as to assert that these are the criteria that determine whether or not we share in eternal life with Him in heaven. OOF! Why such importance? Why is our treatment of the poor and disadvantaged given such a prominent place in our spiritual life?
Jesus reveals this to us, too. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." That is powerful language, right there. Jesus tells us that we shouldn't just help the poor because it's the right thing to do, but because the Lord Himself lives in them.
Jesus reaffirms the dignity of each human person, especially the "least of these." We of course think of the poor, the homeless, and the disadvantaged here. But there are others, too. What about the misinformed? The boorish? The uncharitable?
I've written whole posts about this recently, so I won't go into any greater detail, but I am 100% sure that Christ would have us extend mercy to those we disagree with (especially politically) as well.
And so, as we move into Thanksgiving and its trappings, let's not think of charity as giving to "the least of these." Right now, especially this year, let's think of it as giving to Jesus Himself. Because, in the end, that's what we're really doing. Do your duty as a Christian!
Buy Jesus a meal. Donate a coat to Him. Pray for Him if you see Him on the streets. Be kind to Him. Speak charitably to Him. Above all, love Him in whomever He appears in your life. I pray that when our earthly time comes to and end, we will all receive the reward that Jesus promised to those who take His words to heart.
"Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."
May God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving!