Thursday, October 6, 2016

Say "Thank You."

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

At last year’s first Holy Communion mass at the Chapel of Kristus Aman, I ventured into a dialogue form of homily which I had hoped would prove to be more engaging for the young candidates preparing for this Sacrament. At the end of homily, I asked the children a question, hoping to hear the tagline of my homily, “We cannot live without our Sundays!” “So Children, what must you tell your parents next Sunday? What must you tell your parents every Sunday morning?” A precocious little child who eventually ended up as one of our newest addition to the altar servers, shouted out without hesitation, “We must say ‘Please!’” It wasn’t the answer that I was looking for but I guess next to “Thank you,” “Please” must be the most frequent word which all parents would have drilled into their children. The two necessary words that serve as the fundamental foundation of our vocabulary of social graces – “Please” and “Thank you.”  If “Please” avoids presumptuousness, “Thank you,” avoids contemptuous ingratitude.

Gratitude means more than good manners; it means more than the pleasure associated with possessing plenty of nice things; and it surely means more than mere relief that we have managed to escape, or at least to survive, the latest crisis. Gratitude is what makes us human. No wonder, the first lesson we give our children would be to teach them to say, “please,” and “thank you.” But more than just making us human, these two words express the prerequisite conditions for salvation. In today’s gospel of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers, we see how “Please” begins and “Thank you” completes the work of healing and opens the door to salvation. The story would demonstrate how much easier it is to say “please” than it is to say “thank you.” All ten lepers had no problem pleading with Christ to perform a miracle. But sadly only one, a Samaritan, returned with a heart full of gratitude to say, “Thank you.”

To understand the power of gratitude, one needs to comprehend the horrendous physical ramifications of leprosy. Leprosy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes and damaged limbs. The smell of rotting flesh accompanies this ailment. The emotional pain of a leper, however, must have been even worse than the physical pain. He was removed from his family, from his community. What would it have been like to have been removed from friends and family for a lifetime? It must have been horrible. The disease rendered them ostracised and cut off from the rest of the human world. That is why the ten lepers stood at a distance and cried out to the Lord in today’s story, “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us!” Though it seems to be a demand, the lepers were actually pleading “Please heal us!”

The Lord replied with these words, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The response of the Lord may seem strange to us. They came to Jesus the Physician to ask for physical healing and he sent them off to the priest for confession? It seems ludicrous. But, the response of Jesus kept with the religious customs of His time. The local priest had duties other than leading worship on each Sabbath. He was also something of a health official, well, at least in the case of leprosy. Leprosy was considered to be punishment from God for one’s sins. Therefore, if a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed. He gave the final word to determine if someone was healed and able to reengage in the life of the community.

The climax of the story is found in the ending. It is important to note that all ten were healed but only one man, a non-Jew, a Samaritan, did something exceptional. Only he returned to give thanks for this miracle. When we read this story it is hard to fathom why the nine would leave without at least saying, “Thank you.” But the reality is gratitude isn’t a natural response for many people. When good things happen some chalk it up to good fortune, coincidence or luck. Others feel entitled and deserving of good things. Some believe it is the result of their own hard work. Others are just asleep at the switch and fail to notice. Just as some of us are hard of hearing, some of us are “hard of thanking.” It sometimes takes a gift of epic proportions before we actually feel grateful. But even so, when the euphoria has dissipated and the quest for a new goal brings fresh excitement, gratitude also slips into the background of our consciousness.  

The story reminds us that gratitude is what distinguishes salvation from healing. All ten were healed but only one experienced salvation as a result of his gratitude. This is because gratitude re-orientates the person in the direction of God. Life is no longer an entitlement but experienced as a gift. It opens us up to wonder, delight and humility. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. Without gratitude our lives degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction and complaints, taking what we have for granted and always wanting more. In a broken world where so many are full of fear and anxiety, gratitude has the power to transform our lives. The Lutheran martyr of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is only through gratitude that life becomes rich.” He was so right. A life without gratitude is impoverished. Gratitude transforms us by focusing our attention outside of ourselves; outside of our small and petty world and our brokenness. It makes it possible for us to see the world and life through God’s eyes.

Every single person in this community walks through the doors of this church with a different burden. One feels that he will never overcome the passions and addictions that rule him from morning to night, and for this he is despondent. Another feels pressure from his family to do or be something different in the world, and so he labours under layers of shame and judgement and frustration. Another has just had a conflict with her husband, and maybe even a whole string of conflicts and grieving, is unsure if she will be able to humble herself to initiate a conversation or even to forgive. Another is overwhelmed by physical weakness, old age, sickness and wonders how he can continue to push himself, and begins to despair. And so many of us resent our lot in life from the time we were born, and we can’t understand how God can allow the sufferings and disorder we have experienced all these years. That is why every Eucharist becomes an opportunity and a challenge for the members of the community to choose gratitude over resentment. For that is what the Eucharist means, thanksgiving for the good graces we’ve received from God. We need gratitude not only for survival. We need gratitude for salvation.

Instead of choosing to indulge in self-pity and resentment, instead of seeking to blame someone else for our predicament, instead of wallowing in despair, we can and we must choose the way of gratitude, 24 hours a day and in whatever situation in life. The point is that if we have a constant feeling of gratitude towards God, then every single thing we encounter is a gift from Him, even if it comes in a dirty, ugly box.  When we look back at our lives and all the temptations and challenges, joys and sorrows, pain and sufferings, darkness and light which we have encountered, can we really come to a point where we can thank God for everything? We absolutely must come to this point if we really want to have a deep sense of gratitude for God’s Providence in our lives. This gratitude will open the doors of our hearts to love, joy, peace, humility, and every good thing in Christ Jesus our Lord. Gratitude will open up the doors of God’s Mercy where there will be an outpouring of the graces of salvation. So, let’s not just begin our conversations with God with a desperate “Please.” Let us always conclude with a sincere heart-felt “Thank You!”

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