WASHINGTON — One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is watching the children help during our annual parish dinner for our homeless brothers and sisters in Washington.
This year, a little boy serving desserts looked up with just a hint of trepidation before offering a slice of pumpkin pie to one of our guests. His family, who probably had profusely warned him about talking to strangers, had to encourage him to hand over the pie to a man he didn’t know.
“Dáselo, dáselo,” or “Give it to him, give it to him,” they said in Spanish, urging him to hand over the pie.
The man welcomed it with a wide smile and appreciation. He thanked the boy and the boy smiled back.
Our pastor, Capuchin Father Moises Villalta, said something important before blessing the food: We think the poor need us, but we don’t realize that we need the poor.
I think of how his words apply to what happened between the little boy and the man — and to all of us. In giving to others, we can learn to receive the blessings God has given us, be grateful for them and share them. We can learn that strangers are not bad people. We learn that when we let go of things, our generosity can yield more than just a full stomach, but also heart full of appreciation.
Sure it was just a piece of pie, but Pope Francis has told us that “Small things are small steps toward holiness. And every step towards holiness will make us better people, free from selfishness and being closed in on ourselves, and open us up to our brothers and sisters and their needs.”
During a Thanksgiving week that has peeled off part of the country’s racial scars, following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, our multicultural Thanksgiving guests and benefactors went on about the business of sharing at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Yes, Ferguson was in our minds, but God was in our hearts.
We had more than we needed to feed our guests. We sent them home with food, and even had enough left to feed those who came to help. Even though we had more volunteers than we needed, no one was sent away.
Effie Caldarola, one of our Catholic News Service columnists, who often inspires me with her stories about giving and receiving, and the relationship between the two, asked an important question in a column: “What prevents us from giving more of ourselves, even to causes close to our hearts?”
We suffer, she has written, “from the ‘someday I’ll do something great’ complex. The world’s problems are huge. I need to write a big check. But wait, I better work this out. … Is this really my cause? Or should I do the other thing? My good intentions gather dust. My purse remains unopened.”
In poverty or in bounty, we can always learn to give, either from our purse or from our heart.