As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, one annual tradition here at St. Augustine’s Home stands out as an important message about the true spirit of gratitude. Each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the students and staff of St. Roch’s, a local Catholic parish and grade school in one of the poorest sections of Indianapolis, invite our residents for a Thanksgiving Dinner. People from local homeless shelters (arriving in school buses) and many others without the benefits of shelter are quite literally welcomed in to the feast from the streets. Before the evening ends, everyone is given presents, and the people from shelters invited to take all the food, clothing, toys and other items they can carry, in bags also provided by the school. Everyone is serenaded by members of the St. Roch’s choir.
As I looked around the school cafeteria at everyone gathered, met people who have no bed to sleep in, and saw many with physical and mental illnesses untreated, it became apparent how far removed our Residents are from abject poverty. We owe this contrast, of course, to Divine Providence, through the intercession of a trusting and faithful St. Jeanne Jugan and the boundless grace and generosity of countless dependable benefactors.
At first, it is very uncomfortable, and some among us wonder if we should even be there. What makes us worthy to share in the charity that is so clearly needed by others more than ourselves? But then, as the St. Roch’s choir begins their songs of praise and Christmas tidings, I am reminded that regardless of our perception of the state of our need, we have to accept any help that is offered to us, because in receiving with graciousness and gratitude we allow our benefactors the joy and fulfillment of giving, no matter the size or nature of the kindness. To allow ourselves to be served is to begin to understand humility and to acknowledge our common humanity.
I hope that for myself personally, this new understanding of gratitude will carry me not only through the Thanksgiving holiday, but also into the Christmas season, giving me new perspective on both giving and receiving.