The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in the monastery

Sometimes people ask what we as monks do in the monastery to celebrate Thanksgiving. The short answer is that we give thanks to God each and every day in our prayer, work, and common life together as monks—particularly on Sundays and solemnities throughout the year and in our daily celebration of the Eucharist. Thanksgiving Day, on the other hand, is largely a secular holiday of national gratitude specifically set aside to give thanks for our bountiful gifts as Americans.

As Fr. Abbot reminded us recently, Christians are called to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:17-18).

Having said all that, we do celebrate Thanksgiving in the monastery in a particular way. Yesterday—continuing a tradition of expressing gratitude the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving—the monastic community gathered in the calefactory. Simple but delicious fare was enjoyed—homemade bread, various cheeses, nuts, wine, and desserts (including pear tarts). We socialized and listened to a short reflection by Fr. Abbot reflecting on the many things we have to be thankful for as monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Later, a spirited game of charades was held.

Today, we are following a Sunday schedule (Vigils and Lauds begins at 7:15 a.m. rather than 5:30 a.m., which means we get to sleep in a bit—always something to be thankful for!), and spending the day like many families—eating some turkey, relaxing, and enjoying one another’s company. Some may even catch part of a football game on TV—or a nap. Some monks with relatives living nearby may go to spend part of the day with their families, and a few monks have family members that come here to visit. I will probably call my sister and her family in West Virginia, and speak to my mother on the phone. (I spent some time with my brother last weekend in Cincinnati during my oblate conference trip).

After midday prayer today, all the monks, guests, a handful of students and employees (most are home with their own families), and other visitors enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal together. We had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn bread muffins, cranberry sauce, and either pumpkin or apple/cranberry pie for dessert.

In keeping with the season, this past Sunday (though I was away), the monks and co-workers’ families celebrated together with a special Mass and dinner in honor of Saint Meinrad’s employees to show our appreciation for all the work that they do. In addition, one evening last week several members of the monastic community treated the lay co-workers who care for our elderly and infirm monks to pizza while several monks took care of things in the monastery infirmary.

So, while things are a bit different in the monastery for Thanksgiving then they would be if we were celebrating the holiday in a more “traditional” way with family members and friends, we do mark the occasion in our own way. Of course, that includes celebrating with food, but it also means celebrating the many spiritual gifts provided us, and praising God together in prayer--especially at the Eucharist (a word that is derived from the ancient Greek term for “thanksgiving”).

To be honest, the first couple of Thanksgivings in the monastery were very difficult for me, simply because the experience was so different than what I was accustomed to. But I have come to appreciate and enjoy the particular expression we give to the holiday, while also recognizing it more clearly in our daily lives as monks. True gratitude for undeserved gifts and grace (of which Christ’s loving sacrifice stands supreme) is expressed through joy—one of the 12 fruits of the inner work of the Holy Spirit. And that is what I have experienced here more than anything else—whether on Thanksgiving or any other day.

One example of our common expression of joy in gratitude are the stories and jokes that many monks love to tell. Some of the best can be heard during a few minutes of leisure over coffee after Mass on a day when we follow a Sunday schedule. This morning, quite a few hearty laughs were shared. Here is my favorite:

In the rush to get copies of the new Roman Missal out to churches before its implementation at the beginning of Advent this coming weekend, one publisher accidentally sent a large shipment of the missals to Cuba. Now, we have an international incident on our hands--the Cuban Roman Missal Crisis.
On the way to midday prayer, Fr. Benedict caught me in the hallway to offer this groaner (of which he has many):

Do you know how to eat leftover turkey? Gobble, gobble, gobble.

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