A reflection on gratitude and giving thanks

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In this editors’ note from our November 2011 issue, we learn the power behind a simple “thank you.”

“Do you want to get arrested tomorrow?”

Fresh off the train for a year of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Tacoma, Washington, this was the first of many invitations extended by my new next door neighbors, the Catholic Workers at Guadalupe House. Though my five housemates and I declined this particular invitation to attend a protest against nuclear weapons, it set the stage for a year marked by hospitality from our neighbors.

The Workers constantly opened up their lives to us, whether it was through discussion, reflection, and a hearty meal from the crock-pot at Tuesday night liturgy; regaling us with the adventures of the latest Peace Walk; offering up berries from the garden; or providing the opportunity to remember the deceased at a Día de los Muertos service. When we needed a kitchen utensil, an extra fan, a piece of furniture, or a friendly conversation, we knew that Guadalupe House would always share what they had.

That Thanksgiving in Tacoma will rank among my most memorable celebrations of the holiday. We were of course invited to partake in Thanksgiving dinner next door, where, in addition to traditional favorites like turkey and stuffing, the Guadalupe House feast featured vegetarian lasagna prepared with veggies from the garden, lumpia made from a family recipe from the Philippines, and sweet potatoes baked in my own kitchen.

After everyone was filled to bursting, the tables were pushed away and the piano sounded with a medley of Christmas carols, show tunes, and Sinatra-era melodies. Workers, guests, family, and friends sang together, while Father Bill Bichsel, always the life of the party, showed off dance moves impressive for any octogenarian. It was among the warmest evenings I had during the entire year, and I felt grateful to be welcomed as family when I was away from my own.

“We become a part of people, and they become a part of us,” Bichsel tells writer Karen Kirkwood in “House work,” reflecting the values of the wider Catholic Worker movement (pages 22-25). The same sentiment can also be found in this month’s Expert Witness, in which Jim Forest reflects on the lives of the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who both embodied the hospitality and commitment to peace I found at Guadalupe House (“Work hard, pray hard,” pages 18-21).

The year I spent living next to Guadalupe House taught me how to simply say “thank you” rather than to protest or refuse offerings that were given earnestly and honestly. This November, let us all give thanks—for those whom we have loved and lost, for the beauty of God’s creation on this earth, for the blessing of friendship, and for the opportunity to join a protest or share a meal in community with our neighbors.

This editors' note appeared in the November 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 11, page 4).

Image: Flickr photo cc by tinaxduzgen