Justin and Meghan Stein family, members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Omaha

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2020: Despite the challenges, still much to be thankful for

A worldwide pandemic – a contentious political season – civil unrest.

2020 has been a year filled with negativity, stress and fear. But amidst the turmoil, God’s blessings accrue to those who love him and seek his grace.

Despite this year’s challenges, even as families consider scaling back their holiday celebrations due to the coronavirus threat, Catholics around the archdiocese still have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

The Catholic Voice reached out to a cross section of people asking for their reflections on the blessings they’ve received this year and the things for which they are most thankful. Their responses appear on this page.

Father Ralph O’Donnell, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he encourages the faithful to “give thanks to God in all circumstances,” realizing that God’s grace attends us even in the midst of trials. COVID-19 has had an impact on our ability to physically gather for the Eucharist and participate in other community events that help us connect spiritually with one another. Although these are difficult realities, they also provide an opportunity for us to respond generously in faith. I am grateful for our rich Catholic faith that encourages us to put our love for Christ into action for the good of others.

As a priest, I feel blessed to serve the parish community of St. Margaret Mary, whose members continue to reach out to one another and to the surrounding community in creative and thoughtful ways. I began my assignment here this past December so this has made for an action-packed first year, to say the least. Even in the midst of the challenges, it’s so good to be back home in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Emily Zach, University of Nebraska at Omaha junior, resident of St. John Paul II Newman Center and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk

Amid this year’s difficulties I am thankful for my friends and family. The silver lining during this pandemic was being able to spend more time with family, after school being moved online and spending more time at home. I am thankful for the community at JPII Newman. I am especially grateful for the faith I share with my family and friends. 2020 has been a year filled with changes, but the one true constant we have is the faith we share. Having the opportunity to see things that we so often took for granted has allowed me to cherish the way I spend my time and cherish things that we had to do without at times in the pandemic.

Tim and Kathy Becker, members of St. Ludger Parish in Creighton

The pandemic has affected all of our lives and leaves us with feelings ranging from anxiety to anger to apathy. But, we remain thankful for the three F’s in our lives – faith, farm life and family.

Faith is knowing that no matter what the situation in our lives, the Lord is working in it, which gives us hope. We’re so grateful to share that faith with parishioners from St. Ludger, St. Ignatius and St. Paul.

Farm life is a busy life! We are thankful to live on a dairy farm in northeast Nebraska, which means getting up before the sun rises and not coming in until the sun sets. The peace and satisfaction after a hard day’s work is the best therapy ever. Months and years of changes and economic uncertainties remind us to thank God each year we can stay on the farm.

And family is the greatest blessing of all! We have two married children living nearby with our five grandchildren, and one daughter in college. We are so thankful for the health of all members of our family, especially our newest granddaughter born in late October. May God grant us the grace to pass on our Catholic faith and the opportunity to raise a family on the farm to the next generation.

Sister Michael Marie Rottinghaus, formation director and subprioress, Missionary Benedictine Sisters, Norfolk

During this time of social unrest, COVID-19 anxieties and political worries, one would think there is little to be grateful for when in fact I find there is much to be grateful for. Some of the things that stir up gratitude in my heart center around my birth family and my Missionary Benedictine Sisters family. These “families” of mine give me great cause to be grateful. Through their love and care I have and do experience love, security, joy and the ability to look at the world with gratitude in my heart for all things big and small.

I am grateful for the faith in God which these families of mine have nurtured in good times and bad. It may seem unusual, but I am incredibly grateful for history, both my personal history and world history; this really helps me to keep a perspective on present events.

Justin and Meghan Stein family, members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Omaha

We are thankful that we are Catholic and able to celebrate the Mass, be reconciled in confession, and receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. Daily Mass and the Rosary are and have been our strength, give us structure and provide a deep sense of peace for our family. We are also thankful that we have a solid family unit – we do just about everything together. After our Catholic faith, our family is our base.

We thank God that he has blessed us with children who keep us grounded, help us to become more and more selfless, and to love unconditionally, and that we live near family that we love dearly who are always so generous with their time and support. We have an open invitation to visit our family in Colorado, who are incredibly welcoming and joyful to have us around. We thank God for the small blessings that he provides in ordinary, everyday occurrences.

Mark Morrow, attends St. Margaret Mary and St. John Vianney churches in Omaha

This year has posed unique hardships. There has been so much change and it seems like uncertainty has become the new normal. However, this time has offered more opportunities to seek mercy and find grace.

The pandemic has opened some new doors that I have realized are blessings. For example, I experienced online Masses that took place in different parts of the world; I am still able to connect with family, friends and peers online in new ways; and a faith group that I am a part of called Young Catholic Professionals still meets monthly in some form online. I think overall the Church has increased its online presence during this pandemic also, which is nice to see. I consider all these to be blessings.

Together, we will continue to grow even during these unique times. Anything is possible with God’s grace.

Sydney McKay, senior at St. Francis High School and member of St. Francis Parish, both in Humphrey

I am the most thankful for my family this year. Through the uncertainty and almost constant stress of the pandemic and the arguments about how best to be safe, I have come to appreciate my family more. Many people have lost someone whom they care about this year, which has put into perspective how lucky I am to have my family still with me.

There have been times when I’ve had to refrain from going over to see my grandparents to make sure that I’m not unknowingly spreading any illness to them. I am blessed to live close to them and be able to talk to them outside when we’re far enough away. However, realizing this showed me how I’ve taken for granted that I’ve been able to see them whenever I want when they stop by our house or when we go to theirs.