Continuing the "24 Days of Thanksgiving" theme, here are three more days to Give Thanks.
November 9: Give Thanks for Basilicas
November 9th is the day we remember the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. To be specific, the Lateran Basilica is the Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome. Why would this dedication make it into the liturgical calendar, and why is it important?
Ponder: First of all, we have to realize that church buildings, simply in and of themselves, are signs of hope. There's a story told of an atheist person who would drive by a large church each day. Even though she herself did not believe, she said, she was glad to see that building every day because it meant that there were people in this world who did believe. She didn't feel that she could pray, but she was glad there were people who could. That understanding is the most basic understanding of what "church" is - a community of believers who gather to have an encounter with the living God.
Sometimes just the act of gathering together is enough of a witness. At my parish, we remember the story of an 80-year-old man who spent years driving by our church. One day, he just pulled in. He said he did it because every time he drove by, there were cars in the parking lot - night and day. He decided that if that many people thought this church was worth showing up to, maybe there was something worthwhile going on there. He eventually came in to see for himself, and he stayed.
Churches are also the physical places where we hope to find God. One of the members in my choir told me the story of how, through having this sacred space available, she essentially converted herself to Catholicism, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Our parish has a day chapel where the Eucharistic tabernacle is kept. It is open most of the time so that anyone can just drop in, whenever they need. This friend of mine drove by our church every day on her commute. At the time, she was going through a very difficult period in her life, and one day, it all came to a head. She suddenly had a desperate, overwhelming need to just be in a church, any church, and she thought of “that Catholic church she passed every day.” Surely, they would have a safe space to pray. She wandered in, sat down in front of the Blessed Sacrament, gazed at the life-sized crucifix on the wall, and burst into tears. She found enough peace in this small, quiet place to return, once, twice a week. After a few months of sitting with Jesus, she had the sudden revelation that “this place must do some type of worship on Sunday,” so she started attending Mass. When she told me her conversion story, it was two years after going through R.C.I.A. and being received into the Church, and it all started with finding a simple, physical space.
But on November 9, we specifically think about one church. There are a couple of the reasons why we remember and celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. This church is actually the seat of the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope. The basilica features large sculptures of the 12 apostles, who are each shown holding symbols of their martyrdom. This church is a reminder of the call of every baptized person to spread the Good News, as well as the universal call to holiness. Secondly, being designated a basilica means that it holds a special place in the hierarchy of churches, so to speak. Basilicas can be fitting destinations for a pilgrimage and are usually of larger proportions and have more ability and tendency to adapt to the needs of pilgrims. So, for example, many basilicas have programs or festivals that encourage religious visits, pilgrimages and retreats. A visit to a basilica is an event, a celebration. It is a special thing to do within the spiritual life. Basilicas encourage and invite us to step out of ordinary life, and focus more fully on the transcendent, at least for a little while.
As Catholics, we designate our places of worship as holy places, as special places set apart. This, too, is a sign of the ultimate temple, the new Jerusalem that will be made up of living stones. So, for this gracious reminder, let us give thanks.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for the skills and abilities you gave us, so that we can imagine and build such wonderful places of prayer and encounter. Help us to carry this gratitude in our hearts. Amen.
November 10: Give Thanks for Good Shoes
Ponder: Maybe the boots pictured above aren't exactly what you think of at the words "good shoes," but when the weather turns cold the problem of keeping your toes warm suddenly gets a lot more attention. We've probably all had the experience of freezing, wet feet, and the accompanying thought of wondering just how quickly one can get frostbite. A pair of good, warm, waterproof shoes goes to the top of the list of Important Things I Really Need Very Soon after you discover that you don't have any.
For most of us, good, warm shoes are a given. If we don’t have them, we can get them. But the next time you pull yours on, take a moment to give thanks for them.
Pray: We give thanks, O Lord, for the shoes we have that keep our feet warm, so that we can continue our daily tasks. Amen.
November 11: Give Thanks for Hot (and Clean) Water
Ponder: Here's something else we so often take for granted - instant hot, clean water. Just imagine a life with no hot tea or coffee. And during these colder days, just think about not having a hot water heater. Ice shower, anyone?
Think about washing clothes or even dishes. Do you remember being in grandmother's kitchen, watching her fill up the sink with hot water from the kettle, so that she could wash the dishes? It's amazing just how much easier our lives have become from previous generations. We don't have to build a fire to warm the water, or even keep the fire going all day in the wood stove. We just turn on a tap and wait a few moments. Or if we're in the kitchen, we can just zap the water in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Not only that, but in most cases, we don’t spend a single thought on whether or not the water in our taps, kettles and fridges is drinkable. We just assume it is, because in reality, it is. However, if you’ve ever lived through a bad storm or other crisis when the water suddenly goes out, one quickly realizes just how often we take clean water for granted. Wouldn’t it be something if we could be grateful before the outage, not just after? Clean, hot water on demand - just another small thing that makes a huge difference, and for which we can give thanks.
Pray: We give thanks to you, O Lord, for the gift of clean water whenever we need it, whether hot or cold. Help us to ensure everyone has this gift of life. Amen.
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