One year on the day before Thanksgiving, a man named Gerald was sent to the store by his wife Mabel to purchase some of the things she needed to prepare the holiday meal. Gerald was known to everyone as “Big Jerry,” both because of his size and because of his eleven-year-old son, Gerald Jr., who naturally was called Little Gerry. When he returned home, his wife quickly noticed one item was missing. “How could you forget cranberry sauce? You have to go back to the store; after all, we’ve got twelve people coming for dinner tomorrow.” Big Jerry muttered something to himself as his wife continued, “Oh, and take Little Jerry with you. You two don’t spend enough time together; a boy needs his dad.” Big Jerry sighed, then called out to his son, who turned off the TV and got his coat. On the way to the store Big Jerry tried to start a conversation, but without much success. “How’s school?” “Ok.” “How’s your basketball team doing?” “Lousy.” “What were you watching on TV?” “A movie.” Big Jerry sighed, knowing his wife was going to interrogate him later, asking him, “So, what things did you guys talk about?”
At the store Big Jerry grabbed five cans of cranberry sauce, along with a few other last-minute items, and he and his son joined one of the long checkout lines. “This place is like Grand Central Station,” he muttered, and when Little Jerry asked “What?,” he explained, “Lots of people.” One reason the line was moving slowly was that the clerk at the register, a teenage boy with acne, was giving at least half his attention to the pretty teenage girl working the register in the next lane; they were talking about a party they had both attended. Big Jerry thought to himself, “Hey, less chatter, more work,” and he noticed other people waiting in line were giving each other looks of exasperation. When it was finally his turn, Big Jerry put his items on the conveyor belt and set a $50 bill on the counter, but when the total came to $19.35, he took the fifty back and replaced it with a twenty. The clerk, who wasn’t really paying attention, didn’t notice the switch, and gave him back $30.65 in change. Big Jerry hesitated, thinking, “This kid deserves to be taken,” but remembered his son was at his side. “Hey, I gave you a twenty.” “No,” said the clerk, “you gave me a fifty.” “Look in the drawer!” Big Jerry growled, and the teenager said, “Oh, yeah; thanks,” and gave him the correct change.
Father and son left the store, and Little Jerry got in the car. As Big Jerry was loading the groceries, a man came up and said, “You should have taken that jerk for the thirty bucks—that’s what I would have done.” However, inside the car, Little Jerry said, “That was neat, Dad. One of the girls in my catechism class told a story about how her dad was honest when it would have been easy to cheat, and how she was so proud of him, and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ but now I see what she was talking about—that was really cool.” Then, the whole way home, Little Jerry was talking about school and the basketball team and the movie he had just been watching, while Big Jerry listened in stunned delight, while saying to himself, “Mabel was wrong—Little Jerry doesn’t just need me; I need him” (John Shea, The Spirit Master, p. 201). That turned out to be one the best Thanksgivings Big Jerry could remember—for he had been reminded that fidelity to our religious and moral values can truly be a source of family unity and divine blessings.
God has a plan—for the entire human race, and for each of us as individuals—and the more we try to discover and cooperate with this plan, the happier we will be. For most individuals, and for society as a whole, marriage and the raising of children are a central and essential part of this plan. Unfortunately, our culture is rebelling against God and rejecting His design, as evidenced by some 57 million unborn children murdered in the womb by abortion, the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex “marriage,” and high levels of child and spouse abuse, family violence, and many other social ills. Sooner or later our country will pay a terrible price for this rebellion; in the coming months and years we’ll see that God has withdrawn His blessings and protection from our land—for allowing us to experience the terrible consequences of our sins may be the only thing that will lead to a national spirit of repentance and moral renewal. However, we ourselves can choose to live by the Lord’s plan, even if society isn’t doing so. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark (10:2-16) that husbands and wives must be committed to each other, for this fulfills God’s original intention for marriage. Moreover, families must welcome children lovingly, for Our Lord assures us these little ones are very precious in God’s eyes. When parents are truly united in love with each other and their children, nourishing each other with an example of faith and integrity, a wonderful unity comes about: family members with each other, and the entire family with God. In this way, as the Letter to the Hebrews (2:9-11) tells us, Jesus is honored to call us His sisters and brothers.
What if Big Jerry had stiffed the lazy and clueless sales clerk for the $30? He could easily have rationalized, “Hey, that clown had it coming to him,” but what would Little Jerry have concluded? He might have said, “Dad, why did you do that?,” or even worse, have told his mom what had happened; even if Little Jerry remained silent about the incident, he would have learned the wrong lesson, while losing respect for his father. Big Jerry dodged a bullet; he probably didn’t realize it, but the Holy Spirit, and also his guardian angel, nudged him in the right direction—and that resulted in a blessing for the entire family, and allowed them to celebrate in a true spirit of thanksgiving.
What about us—what messages are we giving to the people around us by our words, our attitudes, and our example? If there are some problems, unresolved issues, or disappointing silences or empty spots in our relationships, might we unknowingly be contributing to or causing them by our selfishness, our complaining, or our weak faith? Are we truly listening to and appreciating our spouses, making time for and guiding our children, and trying to discern and follow God’s Will for us? The Lord wants us to live in a spirit of unity and love and peace—but these things will elude us unless they’re rooted in His grace. We all want to leave our mark on the world, and help make it a better place—and the only way we can truly do this is by loving Jesus and loving one another. Trying our best to do this will help prepare us for Heaven, help bring peace and joy to our families and homes, and—if enough of us unite our prayers and sacrifices and persevere in our efforts—one day even help our nation turn back to God.