Sunday, October 10, 2010

An attitude of gratitude


One day, a man went into a crowded restaurant to have a meal and just as he was about to begin, another man approached and asked if he could join him. The man invited his new friend to have a seat and, as was his custom, bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “Do you have a headache?” The first man replied, “No, I don’t.” The man continued, “Is something wrong with your food?” Again, he said, “No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” The first man paused and said, “Yes, you’re just like my dog. That’s what he does too!”

As we heard in our Gospel passage, “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.” Brothers and sisters, our Scriptures remind us today that there are a lot of people in our world who are just like the man in our story, believing that they have earned every good that comes their way and, therefore, do not need to thank anyone or even God for it. They forget that the blessings that come into our lives are first God’s blessings before they become our achievements. Just think from the earliest moments of life - what did any of us do to “earn” even being born? What did we do to deserve loving parents? What did we do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to speak, feet to walk? How much did we pay God to make us intelligent or beautiful people? And certainly, what could any of us have ever done to merit our salvation from sin and the reward of eternal life? My friends, the message is simple and clear today: too often, we take our blessings for granted. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. Friends, we have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.

In today’s gospel Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one returns to thank Him. Why didn’t the other nine lepers return? Here are some possibilities, maybe we’ve used excuses like this ourselves: Perhaps one said, “Jesus told us to go to the priest. He would be mad with us if we return to him now.” Perhaps one said, “I think we need to wait and see if the cure is for real.” Perhaps another said, “There’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.” Perhaps one said, “Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place.” Maybe one said, “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well someday.” Another might have said, “I told you that if you think positively enough, you will be well.” And another might have said, “Jesus didn’t do anything special; any rabbi could have done it.” Maybe one said, “What we need now is the temple priest, the one who can declare us clean.” And, perhaps one said, “Now that we are okay, we do still need him?”

We’ve all been in the position of making excuses that seem to make sense, but really are just a lack of gratitude. Ingratitude is nothing more than putting our personal needs before other’s needs. But, fortunately for us, there is the 10th leper who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He follows his natural impulse; and impulse of gratitude to God for the wondrous blessing he has received.

I can’t help but think of a parallel when it comes to the way that many Catholics approach Sunday Mass. We know that fewer than 30% of Catholics in this country attend Mass on Sundays. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but more than anything, I think, it is a sign that we have become an ungrateful people. I say this because we lose sight of the main reason that we gather for Mass every Sunday – to give thanks to God. The very word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” If we count our blessing, if we realize that all is from above, from God, then we shall be more likely to act like the 10th leper when he realized he was healed - to return with joy and give God thanks and praise - every Sunday. How often I hear people say, “Do you think God really cares that I’m not at Mass? Does it even matter?” To that question, we hear Jesus say today, “Where are the other nine?” Let us never be counted among that number.

“One of them…returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” For all that is blessed in our lives, we need to give thanks – we need to give that thanks to God. Let us be like Number 10 and return to the Lord, falling on our knees, as a people who give thanks to God for all the blessings we have in life; in fact, for the blessing of life itself. Let us make Psalm 35 our prayer, “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the people I will praise you.”

May God give us grateful hearts and may He give us peace!

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