Thanksgiving, Martyrs and Intentional Celebrations

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’ve spent the week reading stacks of seasonally-themed picture books with my kids: books about Thanksgiving meal gathering traditions, funny books about turkeys, the history of the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims, and the story of Sarah Hale — who we have to thank (no pun intended) for our national day of celebration.

But today, for us Catholics, it is also another important feasting day; it is the memorial of St. Cecilia, a martyr of the third-century Church.

If you don’t know her story, she was sentenced to death by suffocation in the scalding hot steam of the baths, but she was unharmed after being locked up in them overnight. The second attempt to execute her was decapitation; but the executioner could not cut off her head, despite three hacks at her neck, and she was left bleeding to die. She lived for three days more. Her body was exhumed in 1599 and found to be incorrupt. Read her whole story; it is powerful…..but…not really the kind of “happy” tale that would typically come up today around your dinner tables.

But maybe it shouldn’t be weird if it did.

Perhaps our holiday celebrations have become commercialized and stylized to the point that we are totally disconnected from the weight of their origin. It might be a trite reflection to simplistically connect the these two feast days by emphasizing that we get to live in a country where we aren’t martyred for our faith, a country that brought the Pilgrims here in the first place to have a chance to worship and practice their faith freely. While that is true, I think that such a statement by itself still removes us a bit from the reality that we are memorializing.

These holidays and holy days — be they national or religious — exist because of real people and for profound reasons, of which we should not lose sight amidst all of our traditions. Our intentional celebrations are important. We shouldn’t forget or avoid remembering the harsh challenges that people faced, because it is the surmounting of those circumstances that brought about the events we celebrate — whether it be a people group that avoided starvation and settled a colony in the New World or a saint that exhibited impenetrable faith and won her heavenly reward.

Material icons often overtake the holidays’ greater significance: turkey plates for Thanksgiving, blow-up Santas for Christmas, Peeps in baskets for Easter. You know what I mean. I’m all about decorations, but decorations are not all these days are about.

As I sit with my kids and a stack of books, I’m not saying don’t read the silly one about the turkey; I’m saying read the hard one too. Tell the difficult story. These were real people, and their stories and circumstances deserve an empathetic response. These holidays and celebrations require us to enter into the stories of real people in history and see them as part of our own.

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

Thankful…for Ordinary Time

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Yesterday was our last day of Ordinary Time. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, brings the start of a new season and another year in the life of the Church. At this transition in the liturgical year, I am really thankful for the ordinary days. I am always ready for the penitential seasons (Advent & Lent) and celebratory seasons (Christmas & Easter); they refresh and restore us. They set us back on course when we have lost our way. But it is often in the Ordinary Time that we cultivate and reap the fruit of the seeds planted during those other seasons. In fact, it is the ordinary times of life that reveal the state of our faith.

The rhythms of our day-to-day are the practice fields for us would-be saints. If we are going to be saints, then we are going to be saints in our every day. There are many days that I don’t like what I see in myself. I catch myself in a rush, too busy for charity and lacking in patience. Sometimes I make poor use of my ordinary days. What does our use of our ordinary time reveal about who we are? Continue reading “Thankful…for Ordinary Time”

Thankful…for Hope

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Yesterday was one of those days. I was struggling with parenting bad behaving toddlers, dealing with some stressful and emotionally challenging issues, and then to top it all off, my 16-month-old pulls a hot cup of tea off the counter and onto his chest. I raced to pull his clothes off, soak his burned skin in cold water, and call the pediatrician. Continue reading “Thankful…for Hope”