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Thanksgiving message to children: love passed on

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Perhaps you look forward to time off from school, visiting with grandparents and cousins, watching football or eating lots of turkey. My memories of Thanksgiving include lots of laughter with family members around the dinner table. Food is just one important part of Thanksgiving, but these traditions and customs are all examples of the love we share with one another during the holiday.

Beyond food and football, I am sure you know what we are celebrating on Thanksgiving Day. We are giving thanks to God for the many gifts He has given us. Our family, friends and even our education are all tremendous blessings from Our Lord! In this spirit of gratitude, we remember the Native Americans who helped the pilgrims survive their first winter in the "New World." They showed charity towards their neighbors by assisting them with food, shelter and friendship. Each one of us has the opportunity not only to thank God, but to pass on His love to others through similar acts of charity.

This reminds me of a story I heard many years ago when I had just become a priest. It goes like this: a young man named David was headed off to college, and his aunt and uncle who had raised him were saying goodbye at the train station. Today this scene would probably take place at an airport. David asked his aunt and uncle how he could ever repay them for all of their love and kindness over the years, and his aunt replied, "A parent's love is not to be paid back, it can only be passed on."

What does this story teach us? It teaches us that, first, we are recipients of love from God and our families. And when we receive that love, we should not forget about it or selfishly hold onto it, but pass it on to others - siblings, friends, and eventually, when you have families of your own, your own children!

When we think about this love, it is clear that even though the weather has grown colder and the darkness of night settles over us by dinnertime, we still have so much for which to be thankful. When your brother's shouting annoys you, be thankful that you can hear. When your mother makes a dinner that you do not like, be thankful that you have food. When your teacher gives you homework, be thankful that you can go to school and learn. Of course it is difficult to remember to be thankful when we are feeling angry or upset, but when we look for blessings even in situations that seem terrible, we become more grateful and humble. We must always be ready to pass along the love that has been given to us by Christ to every person we meet.

The life of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha teaches us how to show our love and thankfulness to God. She is the first Native American to be declared a Blessed, so I think of her when we celebrate Thanksgiving. She was a daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman. Blessed Kateri's parents died of an illness when she was very young. She was baptized when she was 20 and people mocked her prayerful devotion to our Lord. Out of love for God, Blessed Kateri practiced purity and piety. Like her, we too can thank God by living a virtuous life.

In a special way on this Thanksgiving Day, I will pray to Blessed Kateri for you and your families. I will pray that Our Lord opens your hearts to be thankful and humble, ready to pass along the love that has been given to you by Him. I also ask that you pray for me. Happy Thanksgiving!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009