The last time I was stateside for Thanksgiving, my almost eighteen year-old firstborn son had only nine months of life outside the womb. My hair was full and dark. My brothers and sisters were just starting out in life, or on the cusp of adulthood. My mother and paternal grandparents yet breathed.
Looking on the family portrait we had taken on that visit, with four generations of Altieris in it, I could list many other changes. Some of them would make me say, Sic transit gloria mundi. Some of them do make me pine. Others reveal in hindsight what would come in the years that have transpired. All remind me of the myriad ways in which my whole family has been blessed.
Words like “improbable” and “unreasonable” come to mind, when I consider the benefices that Providence has seen fit to heap upon us.
To be here, in this place – a nation not by blood, nor atop soil, but in gratitude to heaven, the sign and measure of our fellowship – where I was born and where my parents reared me with my brothers and sisters and our friends, is cause for unutterable joy. I don’t entertain any sort of hope that I might be worthy of the heavenly largesse with which I am graced – not this side of celestial Jerusalem – but I have spent the last many years becoming convinced that our work must be to try.
I almost said: “To try, and let God do the rest.”
That would get it exactly backward. The great thing is to let Him work in us. “Pray,” the great Jesuit chaplain of my high school’s football team would tell his boys at Mass on Fridays before games, “as though everything depends on God – because it does,” and then, “play as though everything depends on you – and it does.” Win or lose, he told the boys to make sure that every prayer on their lips and every effort of their limbs would be an offering to the greater glory of God.
Talking with my father around the dinner table recently, we recalled that there were two things Fr. B. simply could not tolerate: one was the sight of a boy who was not doing his best, whether in class or at practice or in the game; the other was bullying, especially of the kind that was not so much physically brutal as designed to make someone feel small or unwelcome – “less than” we’d say today, or not part of the group, the team, the fellowship.
Fr. Eugene Brissette SJ was a Providence native – a fact that always struck me for its poetry – and a ballplayer in his youth. He played center for Boston College in the late ’30s. He joined the Jesuits and became a science teacher. The earliest memory I have of him is from St. Benedict’s – I think – in Stamford, Ct., in any case, one of the churches where he would say supply Masses on weekends.
My father introduced me to him when I was maybe five or six, maybe a little younger. I wish I’d made more of an effort to get to know him through the years. Our religion provides the wherewithal to hope that all similar desires shall be satisfied beyond history. This is the source of our joy and the cause of our happiness.
While we’re on the subject of tables, I recall that last year, my friend Ken Craycraft wrote of his longing for a crowded one with a place by the fire for all and sundry.
“Everyone’s a little broken,” the chantreuses sing, “and everyone belongs.” That’s it, world-in-a-nutshell. (Click on the link above and read the piece, and scroll to the bottom and play the song, no need to thank me.)
I’m unutterably glad to be here, this year, and looking forward to the crowded table at my brother’s house, where – among other things that will happen – my daughter will experience her first American Thanksgiving. By the time you read this, she may well be in tryptophan-and-pie-induced lethargy, but I expect that will last only a short while. Then, it will be back to play with her cousins.
I will delight in what I have received, and be more generous than I have been in sharing of the great blessings given me, more hospitable in welcoming all who would join our company. Thanksgiving increases fellowship and bounty. The cup of amity is inexhaustible. Drink deep from it, and be glad.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends and fellows, all!
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