The Difficult “Thank You”

Perhaps because this is the first Thanksgiving I will not spend at home in Seattle, I have been particularly struck by how much of a “family” holiday this occasion really is in our culture.  People endure busy airports, expensive travel costs, and many miles to gather together on this special day.  Embarrassing or sentimental memories of family and friends are as much a part of the American image of Thanksgiving as mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.  And whether one’s family is big or small, unusual or ordinary, biological or adopted, dysfunctional or thriving, this holiday challenges us to celebrate what we’ve got.

This year I’m reminded that I need to love my Catholic family, too.  In the left-leaning Catholic community where I live my day-to-day life, it is easy for me to avoid certain branches of my religious family tree—certain individuals with doctrinal interpretations I don’t like, or with priorities that conflict with my own.  Even when we gather for our weekly family meal at Sunday liturgy, it is easy enough for me to wave and smile, never engaging them in a loving, personal, familial way.  Yet our common faith in and commitment to this Catholic faith makes us family, in a sense.

This year, Thanksgiving has made me wonder: What if I treated the Eucharistic meal like a Thankgiving meal? Like a holy-day meal during which we gather to celebrate one another, regardless of how colorful and difficult our Catholic family is?  “Thank you” can be reduced to easy words–but I think the Thanksgiving holiday, an occasion when many of us go out of our way to spend quality time with one another, can challenge us live out “thank you” in our interactions with other Catholics. How can we live out the difficult “thank you’s” in our Catholic family today?

Jessica Coblentz is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.  Follow her writing on the Web at

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