Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sermon on gratitude

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
October 10th, 2010
Luke 17:11-19, The cleansing of the ten lepers

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?”

All of us can recall the experience from our own childhood – and those of you who are parents know of it from another perspective – the experience of learning to say “Thank you”. When receiving a gift from a parent or a friend or from another adult, children often have to be reminded by their mother or father, “What do you say?” And, of course, the child slowly learns how to be gracious, how to express gratitude. The boy or girl learns to give thanks.
I bring this experience to mind because I think that there is something of an analogy between the parent teaching the child to say “Thank you” and the words of our Savior in today’s Gospel. We must recognize that parents do not make the child say “Thank you” because they need to feel better about themselves – it’s not really for their sake at all, but for the sake of their son or daughter. Parents know that they have to teach their children to express gratitude because, without this habit, one cannot be successful in human relationships. The parents insist on the words “Thank you”, because they want what is best for their children.

While we might be a bit surprised at how strongly Christ speaks in the Gospel today – for, indeed, he seems outraged and dejected that none but the Samaritan has returned to offer thanks – we must also recognize that our Lord is not upset because he feels put-out or underappreciated. Christ does not require the thanks and praise of any human being; even as a man, he has received all glory from his heavenly Father. Rather, the Lord is dejected because he had given these ten lepers the gift of the healing of their bodies, but he wanted to give them another even greater gift – the healing of their souls, through faith.
Because the nine did not return to give thanks, they received only the first gift, the bodily gift, and they lost the opportunity for grace. Jesus is upset because he had wanted to give them so much more, but they would not receive it.

We have taken the part of the Samaritan who returned to bless God, we have gathered here today to worship and to give thanks. The Mass is characterized by this spirit of thanksgiving. We praise and bless God for all his gifts and we implore his continued protection and guidance. As I am sure many of you know, the very word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”.
And, wonder of wonders, as we return to give thanks for God’s blessings, we receive a gift more precious than all else – we receive the very Body and Blood of Christ. In our act of thanksgiving, we are given a blessing of infinite value.

And yet, we must notice this tension – though the Mass is certainly the greatest action we can possibly perform, it is yet only a very small part of our week. Even if we attend daily Mass, we probably spend less than an hour a day in Liturgical worship and thanksgiving. We must ask ourselves: “How can I take the spirit of thanksgiving and praise which is present at the Mass and extend it into my daily life? How can I truly ‘go forth in the peace of Christ’?”
In this regard, G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic author of the early 1900’s in England, can be of great assistance. He tells, if we are thankful for the beauty of nature, let us follow the law of nature. If we are grateful for the gift of grace and redemption won for us in Christ Jesus, let us follow the Law of Christ and of his Church! The Lord himself has told us, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” This is the true expression of gratitude that must permeate our lives – we thank God for his gifts, by using his blessings according to his command, knowing that all he commands is for our benefit.

It is true that certain teachings of the Church and of the Gospel are not always immediately clear to us. Perhaps we do not fully understand why some things are required and other things are outlawed. Indeed, even when we do understand, it can be difficult to follow the Law of Christ in the midst of the world’s temptations. But this is where the spirit of thanksgiving assists us.
The love and thanksgiving which leads us to follow God’s Law brings us joy and peace, even when things are difficult. By that spirit of gratitude, what might have been heavy is made light, what could have been bitter is made sweet, and the commandments and precepts of Christ and of his Church become our joy.

May this true spirit of thanksgiving, which is itself a gift from On High, inflame our hearts with the Love of Christ and help us to grow in his grace.