As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:11-19)
God healed the ten lepers even though he knew in advanced only one would return and give thanks. I guess they forgot their manners. God still has children who seemed to have forgotten their manners. A wise mother “trains up her children in the ways of the Lord": in virtue and with grace. Thankfully, our God is faithful even when His children are not. A mother knows that kind of love, agape love that expects nothing in return. As a mother of many I am blessed when a child or grandchild of mine practices their manners!
It is by living out our vocation as a Catholic wife and mother that we pass the faith down to the next generation. Our home, the "little church," becomes a training ground to teach our children the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. Looking back on my motherhood journey I find that passing down a love for the sacraments, growing the children in virtue, and establishing family traditions were my main focus.
On Thanksgiving Day, families will gather together with grateful hearts to eat, drink and be merry. They will connect, remember when, and tell stories of bygone days. In my family, it is a holiday you do not want to miss. My mom won't let you. She was a caterer and food is her big thing. I, jokingly, call Thanksgiving my mom’s “High Holiday.” She gets such a joy out of cooking all Thanksgiving week to make the family favorite foods. Celebrating Thanksgiving as a family is tradition.
Wouldn't it be great if every day our hearts were filled with gratefulness and love for one another? How do we live a life of “Thanks-living”? How do we teach our children to do the same? As with every virtue as it is practiced, it grows in our heart. In other words, passing down the faith, is best done by living our faith, being a good example of virtue and testifying to the goodness of God.
I think that one way of growing an attitude of gratitude is to remember when. When we assist at Mass we hear the words, "Do this in remembrance of me.” We remember Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist. We are thankful for the Body and Blood of Christ which feeds our soul. When we read the Word of God, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people. When we recite the rosary we contemplate the life of Christ. On All Saints' Day we are reminded of those holy men and women who have gone before us. By reading about their lives we learn ways to walk in their footsteps. We are grateful for their living example. As we recount our loved ones who have gone to glory before us, we do so with hearts of thanksgiving. By remembering when, we are able to cultivate a life of “Thanks-living.” The more we remember what the Lord has done for us, the more God fills our hearts with thanks and the more we want to live for Him.
One of the treasures in our home is a faithfulness shelf. My friend Judy explained what a faithfulness shelf was:
The Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 4, describes a scene where God did another great miracle for the children of Israel who were under the leadership of Joshua. God once again parted the waters of the river so His children could cross safely on "dry land." Each representative of the twelve tribes was to gather a stone from the bed of the river while the water was being held back, and create a visual memorial on the other side of the river. This memorial was to remind the people of God's amazing, miraculous faithfulness to future generations. Let us also be careful to explain God's amazing work in our lives, as we each have stories to tell of His faithfulness and love toward us to our children, grandchildren, and others.
When Judy showed me her faithfulness shelf, I had to have one too! Whenever I give a tour of my home, I always begin by showing my faithfulness shelf. I take out a few items one by one and tell my guest the story behind the item. Each article that has found its home on the faithfulness shelf is placed there to remind me of an event in my life where God was faithful. My faithfulness shelf is like a walk down memory lane with Jesus. “In Him I live and move and have my being.” As I am telling the story of each priceless item, my heart is filled with joy. As I remember when, faith wells up in my heart reminding me of just how much God loves me. He is the Father of Everlasting love who never forgets His people. Sometimes we feel far away but, He is always at our side. He is faithful even when we are not. His faithfulness to me often brings tears to my eyes.
One day I was praying with my prayer partner, Judy, while getting ready for a church event. I want you to know that I am not a multitasker, and I usually pray with my eyes closed. This day was different. Applying make-up at record speed, I hoped to make the finish line with peace still in my heart. My goal was to beautify in five minutes. In a moment, in a twinkle of an eye, without any warning at all, time stood still. As I took a pause from my everyday life and glanced into the mirror in front of me, I spotted my faithfulness shelf behind me in the reflection. Tears welled up in my eyes that I was unable to control, like a waterfall rushing full force down a mountainside. My life in Christ seemed to pass before me as I reflected on so many ways God has blessed me. "Judy!” I said through sobs, "Our God is faithful!” Then I repeated it, only louder, “Judy, Our God is faithful!’’ Even though it was difficult to understand the words I was trying to say, through so much emotion, she knew what I meant. We have prayed together for over 20 years. She knew God’s faithfulness in her own life. It was on that day that I learned the blessing of having a “Faithfulness Shelf.” My faithfulness shelf displays items that represent many precious memories.
One of my favorite items is the pictures of three babies. Above the pictures of the babies is the scripture, I Samuel 1:27, “I prayed for this child and the Lord granted my request.” I am reminded of the day I went to St. Augustine, Florida where they were displaying a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is there that I fell on my knees, begging the Blessed Mother to intercede before the throne of God for three women who desperately wanted a child. God granted all three of them their hearts' desire. Two of the babies came knocking on the door of their parent’s heart through the gift of adoption. God put it all together.
Upon one shelf is a mug that says, “It’s all good!” It was placed their after my father-in-law Bill passed away. He came to live with us after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage four. I was to be his full-time caregiver. Not being a medical person of any sort, I felt insecure and underqualified. God sent me a Simon to carry the cross beside me. My son Joshua was the perfect choice. Not only did Joshua embrace the cross, but lived the words, “It’s all good.” I learned that when travelling down the path of suffering it is a must to bring a friend along who possesses the gift of encouragement. Joshua fit the bill. He loved his grandpa; listened to his stories, took him on outings and even carried him on his back to the bathroom. Bill was given a peaceful and grace-filled death with the family at his bedside. It was all good!
Lastly, is an item that always makes me laugh! It is a figurine of a nun holding a broom. I had been a Catholic School girl who always wanted to be a nun, and definitely a Carmelite. This desire grew and grew until I reached high school and discovered boys. From then on I was always found with a fella at my side. One day I took a test to see what I would be when I grew up. Not to my surprise at all, I was supposed to be a Mother Superior. On my way down the path of vocations, I met a cute young medical student, Patrick, with an unforgettable grin. He took my breathe away. We married and embraced our vocation, having eight children. I tell my family I was supposed to be a Mother Superior, but instead I am a “superior” mother. I can still pray like a nun, but I never did learn the art of sweeping. When I chose the vocation of being a wife and mother, I never looked back!
Telling our stories helps us to grow a thankful heart. If we pass down the stories from generation to generation, they become our legacy. We all have a story to tell. This Thanksgiving Day let us tell the story of what God has done for us. Let us remember when, and be joyful all over again. Let us teach our children to do the same. As St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel where ever you may go and when necessary use words.” The visual effect of the items on my Faithfulness shelf speaks volumes. They always say, “A picture is worth 1000 words." As I tell the story of each item in my faithfulness shelf my children are listening. One priest used to teach parishioners, “Our faith is not taught, it is caught.” Pitch your children a faith they can catch onto.
What about those lepers at the beginning of my article? I have been doing a lot of thinking about that scripture. Nine did not take the time to stop to say a quick, “Thank you!” to Jesus, but did they tell their story? Boy did they have a story to tell; a miracle that was so life-changing, it would be hard to keep silent about. They would surely have to let the story out. I also wondered, did they ever grow a grateful heart? Let us take some time this Thanksgiving to reflect on God’s goodness to us. Maybe we would like to start a Faithfulness Shelf of our own or at least journal our journey. God still parts the Red Sea, sends a rainbow after the storm, heals the leper, raises the dead, and fills our cup to overflowing! Our God is the God of miracles. The greatest miracles take place in our hearts. When hearts change from asking God for what we want, to thanking God for what we have, a miracle has occurred. When we tell our story we get to rejoice all over again. Tell your story. Tell your story out loud and pass the faith down to the next generation. Let us proclaim God’s praises, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh how good is the Lord.”
What story would you like to tell the world? Stand up, go forth and journey on the road of “Thanks-living!”
Copyright 2015 Ellen Mongan
Photos copyright 2015 Ellen Mongan. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Ellen Mongan, a Catholic writer and speaker, has been married more than 40 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a host of WOW Radio Podcasts, a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry, and Women-Fests.