Not long ago, I was giving a talk to some Catholic grade-school students about our responsibility to those in need throughout the world. As my talk continued I noticed a fifth-grade student who raised his hand and kept it up all the while I spoke. Finally, curious about his persistence, I asked him what he had to say.
He shared that he had asked his parents not to give him any gifts last Christmas and, instead, to send that money to an organization that buys malaria nets for poor children overseas. He had learned how malaria, which can easily be prevented, kills thousands of children each year in developing countries. He also read that malaria nets, at $10 each, were a part of effective prevention. His contribution had bought several nets. He had saved lives with his simple sacrifice.
That fifth-grader is smarter than most of us. He certainly is more compassionate and puts his faith into action more than most people. He is one bright sign of hope in an often darkened world. He lives out a spirit of thanks.
This Thanksgiving finds many people wondering what to give thanks for. It certainly has been a hard, dark year, especially due to the economic crisis which has caused sacrifices, cutbacks and suffering to significant numbers of people. Millions of jobs have been lost and are slow to come back. The dream of a family home has been snuffed out for many families despite their best efforts. We have all had to cut back and live without things we had grown accustomed to.
Yes, these are hard times. However, without diminishing in any way the current struggles of many Americans, we can put things into perspective when we take a world view. I have had the privilege and the pain to see and learn more about global poverty and the heroic people who combat it since joining the staff of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community.
The news is grim. Hunger is a reality for almost half of the planet. AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases affect and kill millions, especially children, who have little access to health care. Natural disasters devastate huge areas and even whole countries that have few resources with which to recover. Armed conflicts kill, injure and displace thousands of innocent people every year.
Many immigrants in this country know well the struggles and suffering in their native lands. They remember it. They still hear from relatives and friends in those areas who are often simply trying to survive.
When times are so tough, what is there to give thanks for? Thanks springs from the human heart that realizes that in the final analysis we are all dependent on God and God is good. We are blessed. We have been given gifts. We need to recognize them, count them. We must respond by being a gift to others. We must live our lives in that spirit of gratitude and put that spirit into action, action that touches and gives hope to others, especially those in need. Maybe that is why we use the term "dia de accion de gracias" when naming this day. It means that thanks is only lived when we put it into action, when we give to others.
We must be committed to each other. We must understand we are in this world together, in solidarity, as one human family. When difficult times come, we don't just ask why this has happened to us. Instead, we ask how we can carry this together. We ask how we can be supportive of each other and not just look out for ourselves, even though we have legitimate needs.
We were somehow all put into this world together at this time for a purpose. To give thanks is to do whatever it takes to pull together, and especially to pull up those who need an extra hand, whether they are across the street, across the border or across the world. We must be people of thanks, putting that thanks into action, and helping spread our many gifts around especially for those who need us the most.
I read recently that in the midst of the Great Depression people were still generous in giving and sharing what they had. I am convinced the same can happen now, this Thanksgiving.
You can see it in a fifth-grader.