Giving thanks for the heroes among us

November is one of my favorite months. It calls to mind a number of opportunities to reflect on God’s blessings. It also provides occasion to act in response to these blessings in a spirit of gratitude.

At the beginning of the month, we celebrate All Saints and All Souls days. In these gatherings, we remember all of our heroes in our faith, family and community that have gone before us. We rejoice on these two occasions reflecting on how God has provided us courageous women and men to help light our way to the Lord.

Near the end of November, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It has always been one of my favorite days of the year -- not just because I love turkey and football -- but also because I take time to reflect on all the reasons for which I am thankful. I’ve discovered over the years that it only takes a moment to consider my material blessings (roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, no real basic needs) but it takes hours to consider all the people -- family, friends, co-workers and others -- that make my life richer. I consider our great Catholic Faith and the people in our lives as God’s greatest gifts to us.

The connection between All Saints and Thanksgiving prompts the realization of just how many living heroes there are around us to be thankful for. Saints are our heroes -- many of our current friends could be tomorrow’s saints! This Thanksgiving I ask you to recognize the heroes among us that are our priests and religious. Responding to Jesus’ call, they have unselfishly devoted and committed their lives to the Church -- to us! They give generously of themselves every day to serve us unconditionally in love.

How might we respond this Thanksgiving in gratitude to these heroes among us-- Let me suggest five ways.

First, I suggest that we collectively defend them and the vocations they have chosen. Our society doesn’t appreciate heroic sacrifice and often acts to undermine these types of vocations. Plus, in the recent past, the actions of a few priests have cast a dark cloud on the 96 percent of priests that have remained faithful to their calling. This has caused arduous lives to become even harder. As we know from history, Christ is betrayed occasionally by some close to Him -- it was true with Judas nearly 2,000 years ago, but in that case, we remember the faithfulness of the remaining 11 (10 of whom were martyred for Christ!). Similarly, let us defend our modern-day leaders who are giving everything they have to serve God and us.

Second, let us resolve that every priest and religious who touches our lives hears a thank you. We can never provide too much genuine appreciation to those that serve us. Please think of those that not only serve us in our parishes and communities today, but also those who have served us over time. The Boston Catholic Directory is a great resource to get a current address for priests and religious who have moved to new communities.

Third, let us remember the retirement needs of our priests and religious. It is a fact that the recent trouble of our Church has made it much harder for nearly every Catholic fundraising need to receive financial support. It is causing pain, much like a loss of income would cause hardship and stress in any family, organization or business. There is a second collection for retired religious sisters on Dec. 9-10. Also, the Christmas Day collection is for retired priests. Please be as generous as you can, as we try to provide these heroes with a humble retirement. If you deem it appropriate, make a contribution in the name of a retired priest or religious who has had a profound impact on your life.

Fourth, because funding Church programs is harder now, let us make it easier for our priests and religious to ask us all for money. I too often hear, “Father so-and-so is always asking us for money.” While it is hard to be on the receiving end of a fundraising pitch, it is much harder to be the one asking! The truth is, fundraising is among the least favorite responsibilities of most of our pastors. But, they know that entering their life of service requires many little sacrifices -- and for many of them asking us for financial support is one of them! We must be mindful that the reason they are asking for donations regularly is that funding is what keeps our parishes, programs and agencies alive. While many Catholics are giving sacrificially to our parishes and archdiocesan ministries, many Catholics are still providing simply a fraction of what they could. As one pastor remarked, George Washington is still the most popular face in the collection basket! One of the best things we all could do is to invite our friends and fellow parishioners to give in a committed way to our parishes -- either through envelopes or through electronic monthly donations. As we all know from our own personal finances at home, it is much easier to plan if we know roughly how much money is expected every month.

Finally, this Thanksgiving, let us all pray for our priests and religious, living and deceased. Let us also pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send us new vocations, just as heroic as those we have been privileged to know in our own lifetime!

Scot Landry is Secretary for Institutional Advancement and Chief Development Officer.