Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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November 27th, 2009

4:30 in the Morning (Part 1)


In the interests of being topic, this post describes one of the first Thanksgivings I spent with the Paulists and the very special day that came after it.

I’m kind of a four trick pony in the kitchen. As it happens, three of those tricks revolve around Thanksgiving Day, so I volunteered to cook again this year for the big Thanksgiving feast along with another student. We were the same duo that cooked the feast last year and we compliment each other well. I make the turkey, sweet potato casserole, and homemade cornbread stuffing; he makes the greens, mac and cheese, oatmeal cookies, corn pudding, and spiral ham. If you have been taking notes, you will notice that all of the food items listed are brown; even the inconvenient color of the “greens” is rectified by cooking them in grease and stirring in large quantities of ham.

Because dinner is at noon, we have to get up at 4:30 in order to put the turkeys in the oven. It has been tradition of mine to listen to Frank Sinatra during Thanksgiving prep, so after the turkeys are in the oven I put on the “Franks Thanks” playlist on my iPod and start on the homemade stuffing. The corn bread was made the day before so I get the rest of the ingredients together. My recipe calls for 2 cans of evaporated milk. This leaves me perplexed – if it’s evaporated, shouldn’t the can be empty? It’s too early in the morning to ask that question, never mind the paradox of “non-fat” BUTTER-milk. I mean… you know… isn’t butter essentially fat?

Mass is at 10, about 2/3 of the way into cooking preparations. We don’t really have time to change into something more presentable, so we rush upstairs not completely covered in flour. My superior is presiding, and during his homily he reads a homily given one Thanksgiving by his good friend Joe Gallagher. After reading Joe’s homily, my superior concludes with his own thanks – because he had already prepared a homily before he found Joe’s, he would not have to write a homily for next Thanksgiving.

It made me think on how often, even during this service, most of my conversations with God center around asking for things in my life instead of thanking God for things. After trying to manually change the station in my head, I started hoping that at some point that the “gratitude” station will simply be “on” when I sit down with God instead of me having to constantly get up out of my chair to change the station.

Some relatives were in town and helped us out for the final push of cooking. To vary things up from the “beige” theme from last year, I made sure to include homemade cranberries… purple is close to brown, but is officially not brown. At noon for our prayer I read some text from one of my favorite theologians: Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.

After dinner, my mom and my sister headed up to my sister’s house in Baltimore and I laid down for a much needed nap. Later that evening, I drove up to Baltimore to join them, leftovers in tow. When driving through downtown Baltimore, I noticed three older people walking on the sidewalk. My first impression was that they were homeless, but I didn’t know for sure… I was thinking that maybe I should give them the food in my back seat. I didn’t want to be presumptuous… I mean, have you ever asked a woman when her baby was due, only to have her tell you that she wasn’t pregnant? I could see something similar happening here, so I didn’t stop.

But that wasn’t the real reason. I have a habit of keeping my “ministry/do-gooder” world separate from my “white-bred middle-class” world. In my mind, giving away the precious leftovers my family was expecting might have resulted in an unpleasant crash of those worlds. Granted, the big crash in my head probably only would have been a small bump, or even a happy merger. While some members of my family have experience with the disadvantaged, I’m not always comfortable in my role as “witness” – especially when turkey and pumpkin pie are at stake.

I was reflecting on that as I drove down the road, and I saw a row of more people huddled in blankets along the side of a building. I was moved again, and this time I was prepared to get over myself and offer the people on the street some food. That’s when I noticed the “Best Buy” sign at the top of the building… they weren’t homeless they were on line for a Black Friday sale! I drove past the crowd with a clear conscience.

The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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  • Tom Gibbons

    I know – I’m such a big fan of Lincoln. I actually preached on Thanksgiving Day at my parish in Austin and I used the address as a central theme and people responded that it worked really well. Thanks for the comment!

  • Rosemary Azzaro

    Not so many people have taken time to find and read Lincoln’s Proclamation; for many people, “Who knew?” I had used this as part of a prayer service I developed for Thanksgiving; these words remain relevant.
    For those who are curious, here is a link:

    And, it sounds like your meal/day was colorful in its own ways.

    Enjoy the last of these Thanksgiving “vacation” days.

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