Pennsylvania’s leading Catholic Day School for Boys, Grades 9-12

Thanksgiving Message from Brother James Butler, FSC

Dear La Salle Family:

On a frosty morning a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues here at La Salle greeted me with a question: "Why aren't you wearing an overcoat out here?" I thought about it, looked at him, and responded truthfully. "It's still October. I never wear an overcoat till November 1st." While it was a frosty morning with a temperature hovering in the mid-thirties, something more powerful was at work than the impulse to keep these aging bones warm: ROUTINE.

Routines structure our days, years, and lives in ways that can be quite helpful in the efficiencies they present. On Sunday mornings, I set up the organizer for the pills that will keep me among the living for the week to come. Every month on the 12th (the date of my birth), I remember to change my razor blade. Wednesday is dry cleaning day (20% off and 99 cent shirts), when any suit that has been worn five times goes in to be refreshed. The twice-yearly change between standard and daylight savings times reminds me to flip my mattress. (Small wonder that I earned the nickname "the model husband" from a prior Mothers' Club).

Perhaps no holiday is more supported by a collection of annual family routines and rituals than Thanksgiving. Each family has its collection of traditional foods—from the nibbles provided to those watching the parades or games while the turkey's roasting, to the assortment of side dishes, to the selection of pies that ends the meal (I was fascinated as a child by the inclusion of that mincemeat pie which appeared to be baked only to be thrown out untouched each year.). Relatives and progeny have their place in a rotation. Whether married children come to you or the in-laws, whether the loser gets them for dessert, and who goes to get Gi-Gi from Normandy Farms: these things are all pre-ordained. In larger clans, different participants are assigned predictable culinary contributions year after year. A trusted sister-in-law may get to bring the required second turkey. Someone newer to the family may get a contribution less essential to the feast, the string bean or sweet potato casserole, for example. And the ne'er-do-well bachelor brother-in-law? "Why don't you just stop at Wawa and get a bag of ice, Bud."

I have spent maybe five or six Thanksgivings out of the country, occasions that threatened the stability of my own unquestioned routines. For the most part, my companions showed a healthy indifference to this uniquely American custom. I remember yet two that were different, though, holidays that demonstrated the pull of the familiar. In 1995, an Australian Brother was determined that I should have my national holiday meal (served in the Southern hemisphere's late spring)—even though the rare Australian turkey seldom weighs above eight pounds and would no doubt discover its buzzard roots on More moving was the scene in Bethlehem during the second Intifada. With access to Jerusalem's supermarkets denied, it seemed we predominantly American Brothers would have to make do with whatever meat was at hand in the freezer. Sixteen years later, I can still remember the look of triumph on a member of the facilities staff's face when he bounded into the community dining room Tuesday evening holding two turkeys by their (still-attached) necks, the Israeli army having proved no match for the ingenuity of local underground markets.

While our routines clearly can save us much time and thought in less dramatic times, they do have a downside. They can limit our attentiveness to what is going on in any situation. We can end up saying with the speaker in T.S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages," "we had the experience, but missed the meaning." So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving 2018, we pray as the La Salle family that we get the meaning, that:

  • We find in the meal we share, whether with a handful or a multitude, a sign of God's presence among us, his providential care for us and those that we love;
  • We notice the maturing of the young people at our tables, that we find the means to encourage their participation in adult conversation, to listen to their fledgling interventions in our debates, to take delight in the growing sophistication of their humor;
  • We find as a family the strength to buoy up the frail and the fragile among us, whether their tentativeness this holiday be due to advancing age, the absence of a companion due to divorce or death, the strain of addiction or depression, or simmering resentments due to old wounds;
  • We tread gingerly around the social or political perspectives that divide us, realizing that civility, the ability to say "Well, you may be right" --even through gritted teeth--is a greater virtue than correctness, that this family will endure long after the "-isms" fashionable at this moment disappear;
  • We welcome the first-timers among us, realizing the struggles such holiday debuts may inspire;
  • We are sensitive to those in transition, from young families boldly breaking away to inaugurate their "own" Thanksgiving to the family matriarch, stepping down as chef de cuisine for the first time, wistfully adjusting to being just another guest;
  • We remember the blessings this feast was instituted to recall, taking to remember and name them, conscious of the many people who do not share the same gifts;
  • We never take what I would call Lasallian Culture for granted; rather, we appreciate that the invitational, accepting, reflective, and compassionate atmosphere which encourages both parents and sons, fostered by the commitment and sacrifice of many we will never know, does not exist simply by virtue of being an institution admitting students from the 9th to 12th grades;

Let's pray, then, that all of us in the La Salle family will find in the Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas rituals of 2018 a unique opportunity to appreciate the care of a God who loves us so much that he is willing to disrupt his routine to the extent of sharing his own Son—his own self--with us. Looking for God? Seek out places and moments where routines, whether daily ones or those proper to life's cycles and stages, intersect with the timeless. You will find God there. With pressures mounting over these next four weeks, we may often feel close to losing our minds. So, as three centuries of Lasallian practice has taught us, let us pause to be mindful. Let us remember, not by rote but with the awe it should inspire, that we live in the Holy Presence of God.

Brother James Butler, FSC