Your guide to Thanks­giv­ing grace

Fa­ther Doyle’s ad­vice: ‘Let your heart speak’

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Bar­bara VanDen­burgh

To the best of my rec­ol­lec­tion, I had never once said grace un­til meet­ing Fa­ther Tom Doyle.

Once or twice a year for over three decades, I would du­ti­fully bow my head and muster the willpower not to pick up my fork and start stuffing my face with mashed po­ta­toes. I had, in the past, con­sid­ered this a re­mark­able feat de­serv­ing of re­spect (I re­ally love mashed po­ta­toes).

Fa­ther Doyle changed that. Fa­ther Doyle is about as warm and un­in­tim­i­dat­ing a cler­gy­man as you could ever hope to meet. The child­hood friend of a mu­tual buddy, Fa­ther Doyle has be­come a fixture of pri­vate so­cial gath­er­ings. Some­times he set­tles in to break bread. Other times he dashes in and out, on his way to or from a fam­ily in need. But what­ever the oc­ca­sion, whether it’s a back­yard chil­dren’s birth­day party or a cel­e­bra­tory din­ner at a nice restau­rant, he has al­ways made the time to gather ev­ery­one to­gether and say a few words of thanks.

When he speaks, it feels as if you’re be­ing em­braced in a hud­dle you never want to leave. “Grace is my con­ver­sa­tion with God that other peo­ple get to eaves­drop on,” Fa­ther Doyle told me.

He gets a lot of prac­tice say­ing grace at An­dré House, where he is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. The cen­tral Phoenix Catholic char­ity min­is­ters to many of the city’s need­i­est cit­i­zens, serv­ing hot meals to 500 to 700 peo­ple a night. Last year, An­dré House served its 5 mil­lionth (yes, mil­lionth) meal. De­spite the in­es­timable hu­man suffer­ing on dis­play, Fa­ther Doyle and An­dré House’s hard­work­ing vol­un­teers – and many of their guests – find rea­sons to give thanks be­fore ev­ery meal.

“It’s a place where peo­ple have so lit­tle,” Fa­ther Doyle said, “but it’s a place where I see so much grat­i­tude.”

In­spired and not a lit­tle shamed by his ex­am­ple, I pledged last Thanks­giv­ing to say grace and fol­lowed through, how­ever clum­sily. But I couldn’t have done it with­out the sage ad­vice of Fa­ther Doyle, who was happy to pro­vide some point­ers and words of wis­dom to en­cour­age the tongue-tied to speak up this Thanks­giv­ing – and when­ever the spirit moves them.

It all boils down to this: “Just don’t let the words get in the way. Let your heart speak.”

Why say grace?

“For me, it is the con­scious ex­pres­sion of grat­i­tude for gift,” Fa­ther Doyle said. As some­one who works daily to feed the hun­gry, that’s how he thinks of food. “We don’t cre­ate it, we don’t make it – it’s just a gift.”

And grace is the pause be­fore re­ceiv­ing that gift to say thank you.

Is it nec­es­sary that the speaker prac­tice a par­tic­u­lar faith?

No, Fa­ther Doyle said. Though he is, ob­vi­ously, a de­vout Catholic, he con­sid­ers the urge to give thanks in­stinc­tual. “I just think there’s some­thing an­thro­po­log­i­cal about us that is wired to un­der­stand there is a benev­o­lent force in the uni­verse that blesses us.”

What’s the best way to pre­pare?

Fa­ther Doyle’s prayers never feel me­chan­i­cal, but in­stead like sin­cere ex­pres­sions of grat­i­tude. He starts, he said, by think­ing about where he is and whom he’s with. “I look around and think for 30 or 15 sec­onds,” he said. “We’re go­ing to give thanks for the meal, but there are so many other bless­ings worth men­tion­ing.” A meal with friends and fam­ily is about more than just food; it’s a chance to be in com­mu­nion with one an­other.

Don’t sweat the words

There’s no per­fect for­mula for grace or one “right” way to say it, so long as you mean what you say. “If you’re say­ing grace and you’re wor­ried about the words, you need to get past that,” he said. “It’s just an au­then­tic ex­pres­sion of what­ever sen­ti­ment you feel in your own words, in your own ac­cent.” Case in point: Fa­ther Doyle’s all-time fa­vorite grace was the one de­liv­ered by his 4-year-old nephew at Christ­mas. “He just started to shake and he said, ‘Thank you God for ev­ery­thing in the whole wide world!’ I’ve of­ten said that’s the per­fect grace.”

Get­ting com­fort­able with prayer

Prayer can be in­tim­i­dat­ing. Open­ing your­self up through prayer – whether it’s to the Judeo-Chris­tian God or what­ever creative force you think might move the uni­verse – is an act of in­ti­macy. Fa­ther Doyle thinks of prayer as plac­ing one’s self in God’s pres­ence and, as with grace, one need not fret about the words. “Some­times be­ing in that pres­ence will in­vite words,” he said. “Some­times it’s be­ing silent, some­times just let­ting thoughts, mo­ments of grat­i­tude, ex­pres­sions of need pour over you or pour through you.

“Whether you’re He­brew or Hindu or Mus­lim or Chris­tian or Catholic, we just place our­selves in the pres­ence of God and trust that God loves us and adores us and wants us to thrive.”

The USA TO­DAY Net­work and Thanks­giv­, Amer­ica’s home for the hol­i­days, are here to help you make those spe­cial times with fam­ily and friends even brighter. Whether you’re look­ing for recipes, how-to food videos, sea­sonal decor ideas, or de­li­cious new desserts, we’ve got you cov­ered. Thanks­giv­ is pro­duced by USA TO­DAY Net­work news­rooms and Grate­ful Ven­tures, a part of the net­work.


Fa­ther Doyle is happy to pro­vide point­ers and words of wis­dom to en­cour­age the tongue-tied to speak up this Thanks­giv­ing.

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