Monday, November 20, 2023
Victor Martell - St. Vincent de Paul Society
It is said that the tradition of Thanksgiving originated as a way to give thanks for a successful harvest after months of sacrifice and hard work. In the United States, early Thanksgivings were celebrated on a variety of dates. Then, in 1863, at the suggestion of Sarah Josepha Hale, Abraham Lincoln decided that the day should be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Later, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law, making it the fourth Thursday in November each year.
I remember that years ago, everyone who observed this celebration would travel by road, train or airplane from one state to another to join their relatives and be together on that special day, when we thank God for the health and prosperity we have received. The day brought together grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, great-grandchildren, in short, the whole family. Everybody would take time off from work (a four-day weekend starting on Thursday) and perhaps more, because they had to travel to very remote places.
Today, it saddens me to see that parents are forgotten in nursing homes, or homes for the elderly, while their children and grandchildren use those days to go to the beach, or even travel to other countries. I have had the opportunity to visit these lonely elderly people and see their eyes filled with tears because of their forgetful relatives and abandonment.
I thank God that shelters and community centers offer them a Thanksgiving meal, mostly at lunchtime. While it is true that they do not lack a meal, when I talk to them, almost everyone tells me that they would rather go hungry but be surrounded by their family.
I believe that God watches with joy when we gather with our families and take advantage of this day to forgive if there are grievances, and to come together, because we share the same blood. This should serve as an example to your children, so that when they grow up, they will remain with you year after year.
Thanksgiving Day is one in which us members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul should make every effort to bring groceries to the homes of those who do not have the means to buy them, so that they too can gather as a family and celebrate this special day of gratitude, primarily toward God.
One Thanksgiving Day many years ago, when I was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kendall, I finished work at 3 p.m. I planned to go home early, in case I needed to do some last-minute shopping and bring a few extra things for our guests.
At that moment, I received a call from the church secretary to inform me that all but one of the grocery boxes had been delivered, and that it could not be left there because it contained a turkey.
The truth is that I didn't like that at all, because it was already late and my place of work was in Hialeah. I was upset. Against my will, I went to the church and picked up the groceries and the turkey.
The home was not far from the church. When I finally arrived, I met a little boy, and asked him if that was the right address, and where apartment 302 was.
That child went running up the stairs, telling me: "Come, it's my house!", and shouting: "Mommy, mommy, the angel is here!" I almost dropped the box from climbing the three flights of stairs, and when I was able to overcome the shortness of breath, I knocked on the door and asked the lady who opened it why the child was shouting, "The angel is here."
She said, "You see, we don't have anything to eat for Thanksgiving. We arrived in this country only a month ago, and when my son asked me what we would have for dinner tonight, I told him: We have nothing. Only an angel could bring us the food for this feast day."
I descended the stairs with tears of joy, but also with grief because I almost turned away from my Vincentian principles. That evening at home, when I was asked to share some words of thanksgiving to God, I just said:
"Thank you, Lord, because you gave me the opportunity to help a family today, and because you also gave me the willpower not to be indolent so that I could carry out my duty."