Padre Paul’s Ponderings: So Much to be Thankful For

As you’ve heard me preach for a few years from now, you probably know my style is to
introduce the homily with a story before getting into the main takeaways from the week’s
readings. I started doing that early on in my priesthood, as I used to listen to “Paul
Harvey’s ‘The Rest of the Story’” every day on the radio and loved learning about
historical figures, but you’d never know who he was talking about until you got to the
end of the story. There was also a seminary priest who would preach that way too, Fr.
Mike Byron who I greatly admired and is a phenomenal preacher. Every priest has his
own style, and it’s the one I’ve felt the most comfortable with. Some weeks it works,
some not so much. Perhaps in a future column I’ll expound upon the “Star Trek II: Wrath
of Khan” homily I gave at a daily Mass at 6:45 a.m. trying to make a point about
revenge, or the time I preached about “Doc Hollywood” at a teen Mass, a lesser known
film from 1991 because I thought it would be a great way to relate to the teens. (Hint: it
was not effective).

One time though I came across a story about a person that was so compelling I wanted
to track them down. Her name is Mary Jackson. She’d been through so much; losing
her husband to ALS; running into red tape while trying to do charitable work in the
Washington, D.C., area, and chronic conditions that set her back not to mention nearly
losing two of her children. (You can read her story here:
https://www.catholicherald.com/news/local_news/they_called_her__sr__mary_/). As I
said last week in my homily, at one point in my life I was working as a reporter so I used
to do a lot of interviews of people, and with the help of the Internet was able to reach
her. We had a great conversation, and Mrs. Jackson is a woman of profound faith.

One of the things I’ll never forget about our conversation is how despite all she has
been through, her faith is as strong as ever. And she mentioned to me that if one wants
to grow in faith, they really need to not just ask God for things, but be thankful for things.
Despite her sufferings, she points out she and all of us have so much to be thankful for.

I couldn’t agree more. There is no getting around life is hard. And it’s important to ask
God for intercessory prayer. But as Mrs. Jackson put it, we should also thank God too.

This time of year gives us a chance to look at what to be thankful for. And as I do that,
here’s a few of the things that I’m grateful for not just at Thanksgiving but every day of
the year.

Life. Every day is a gift.

Family. I’ve been blessed with parents who have been with me always and taught me
so much, a great sister, wonderful grandparents and for the past five years a wonderful
nephew. A joy of each day is being able to talk to my parents on the phone and see
them regularly, and while seminary taught me so much about the faith, my parents have
done so much to teach me about the faith in action.

The Parish. I really love being here at Saint Joe’s. I’m surrounded by so many great
people who give selflessly of their time and talent to make our parish thrive. We have so
much going on in our parish: a thriving school and preschool; active commissions; and
scores of ministries. It’s so uplifting to be in a parish where people work so well
together, there’s no “turf wars” and people really come together for the greater good.
And I really feel welcome here like part of a family – it’s an honor to be your priest.

Staff. I work with amazing people. Our staff is so dedicated and go above and beyond
the call of duty because they, like me, really care about our parish. As with the parish as
a whole, internally the staff really functions much like a family. We pray for one another,
help one another out, and see one another as serving the greater good. In some
parishes there can be so much dysfunction both in the community, on staff or both, but
that’s not the case here. What it is is an attitude of love and service.

Simple joys of nature. About 10 years ago I really got into photography. My first “photo
shoot” was taking my new camera at the time and going for a walk on a winter’s day in
Medina at the regional park. None of the photos were keepers, but what I remember
that day was taking the time to enjoy the sunset, look at an old barn, and enjoy the
quietness of being in nature. Since that time I’ve taken to bird, wildlife and landscape
photography and getting outside as much as I can. The point is there’s so much around
us to enjoy. So take time to enjoy it.

Knowing God. Coming to know God is a lifelong process and I hope one day to be with
Him in heaven forever. But I see Him at work in my life and in our world, and what a
blessing to have a God who journeys with me, who forgives me, and who helps me daily
to become a better person.

My priesthood. The joys of being a priest are you are with people at their best and
worst moments. Like any vocation it has ups and downs, but I go to bed each day at
peace, content and fulfilled. The people I serve also serve me by making me a better
person and helping me to grow. I learn so much from coworkers and people in the
parish. And I hope I’ve been able to help people too on their spiritual journeys. It’s a
wonderful feeling when you know inside you’ve discovered what you were called to do
with your life and have a vocation that brings you such joy.

My country. I’m so blessed to be an American. Our founders realized our freedoms
were given to us by God, not by a government, and our nation works to preserve them.
We are so lucky to have freedom to speak, to worship, and to lead our lives the way we
do. May we never take for granted the sacrifice so many have made to preserve our
liberty.

My mistakes. I’ve made plenty like we all do. But when we make mistakes in life, or
commit sins, we also learn from them. More mistakes will be made. More sins will
happen. But I know God’s love will forgive me, and I’ll also emerge a better person.
There’s other things to add too. The forthcoming Vikings Super Bowl. Burgers. Pizza.
Turkey dinners with white AND dark meat, potatoes and gravy. Summertime. But there’s only so much space here. I’m sure your list would be pretty long too. The point is
let’s think about it more than just once a year. In life it’s OK to complain sometimes even
to God. But take time to look long and hard at your life and the people who fill it, and I’ll
bet you find there’s so much more to be thankful for than to complain about. We really
are pretty blessed!

Many Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving!

Fr. Paul