The fall has now settled into its routine. Cool weather is no longer surprising, but expected. School is well underway. The trees have changed color. The holidays are on the horizon. In a few weeks, when we’re pushing our shopping carts through supermarkets, we’ll be filled with excitement—and maybe a bit of dread—as we try to put that perfect Thanksgiving meal on the table for a houseful of friends and family.
It is such a delightful holiday, Thanksgiving. No presents to buy, no advertisements beyond the grocery store fliers—just food and fellowship, and, for most of us, a thankful celebration of the bounty that the Lord has given us.
Of course, growing up in Hong Kong, we did not celebrate this most American of holidays. I remember well my first one after I came here to go to Purdue University as a teenager. What a strange day to take a holiday, a Thursday! But that Wednesday, the campus emptied as almost everyone left to spend the long weekend at home with their families. It was clearly important to them.
Obviously, I could not make such a trip, but a lady I barely knew at Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas (The Catholic Center at Purdue) made sure I would not have a lonely night in the dormitory. She invited me to her home for my first Thanksgiving meal. I have never forgotten that. In the many years I spent working on college campuses, my husband and I always sought out students who could not make it home and invited them over for Thanksgiving. It was my way of repaying the kindness shown to me.
We call this hospitality. The origin of that word is interesting. It comes from Latin and Greek words that mean “stranger,” which sometimes could be an unfriendly stranger; hostile has the same origin. But eventually, it came to mean an almost sacred duty to take care of strangers in need. The word hospital shares the same roots.
The Bible is full of stories that illustrate such hospitality. The washing of the disciples’ feet that Christ did on the night of The Last Supper was a traditional sign of hospitality. The host welcomed his guests with a much-welcomed service—the streets were quite dusty—rendered with humility that made clear all were on the same level. The parable of the good Samaritan, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, teaches that everyone who is in need—and to whom we can render assistance—is our neighbor.
We invite family and friends to our Thanksgiving table. Sometimes we invite people we hardly know, as the lady at Mass did for me. During this season of giving thanks, let’s all think about expanding our Thanksgiving tables beyond our dining rooms, homes, neighborhoods, cities, states and even our country. Let us include the many who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Some of those may be in your neighborhoods. Others are in Haiti and Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean.
In our Thanksgiving prayers, let us remember the people around the world who are hungry, who are thirsty. Join Catholic Relief Services in setting them a “place” at our tables. May they too experience the bounty of the Lord celebrated in this season. Can there be a better endorsement of hospitality and expression of gratitude?
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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