The major theme of our first reading and our Gospel reading today is gratitude. So, let me first share some things that I am grateful to God for. First, I give thanks to God that each one of you are here today. You didn’t have to come today. There have been so many scandals and bad news in the Church that it’s easy to get discouraged, but you are here nonetheless. And we live in such a busy world; there are so many things going on all the time and so much to do, so many things vying for our attention, and yet you have chosen to set those things aside for a brief time and come to Mass instead. So I am grateful for that.
I’m also grateful for the many people in our parish who dedicate themselves to serving here in some way: our catechists, everyone who helps at Mass, our choir, our staff, the people who put on our parish dinners and our annual parish event and out student dinners, our Knights of Columbus, those who volunteer with our food pantry, the people who count our collections every week, those who bring communion to the home bound; the list goes on and I am sure that I am forgetting people. Often the same person will be involved in multiple things here at the parish. Again, you don’t have to do it, but you choose to do it anyway, and so I am grateful for that.
And I’m grateful to all of you for your prayers for me and for our parish, and for your generosity. I’m happy to say that we are at about 99% of our CSA goal, even though the diocese has increased our goal significantly in both of the last two years. And even though here at the parish we have increased what we budget for Sunday collections, which is what funds the day-to-day operations of our parish, we are also hitting that goal week after week. So there is much that I am grateful for.
In our Gospel today, Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one of the ten returns to give thanks to Jesus. Jesus praises him for doing this and credits this as an act of faith. Gratitude is so powerful and so necessary in life in general, and particularly in our spiritual life. When we think of prayer, we most often think of prayers of petition: asking God for our needs and for the needs of others. This is of course a good and important thing to do. We have petitions at every Mass for example. God does not get tired of hearing us ask Him for what we need. However, there is more to prayer than that. We also ought to acknowledge the gifts and the blessings that God has given us. When God answers our prayers and grants us what we have asked him for, we ought to recognize that and give Him thanks for it. And think of how much there is to be grateful to God for: how about the fact that we exist, for starters. God didn’t have to create us. But He did. God gives us life; He gives us everything we have – it all can be traced back to God. He gave us this beautiful world that we live in. I remember once a priest in a homily talked about how grateful he was that God gave us food that tastes good. After all, He didn’t have to do that, but He chose to do so anyway. I am really grateful to God for that: so many good things to eat. If you stop to think about it, there is so much to be thankful to God for. And doing this, taking some time everyday to reflect on what God has given us and to thank Him for it, is such a valuable thing to do.
I think we are all familiar with what an examination of conscience is: when we are preparing ourselves to go to confession and we take a few minutes to think about our sins and what we have done wrong, and to be sorry for them. There’s something else in our Catholic tradition though that I think many people are not aware of, and that is what is known as an examen, or a daily examen as it is often called, because it really should be done on a daily basis. An examen includes an examination of conscience in which we call to mind our sins and ask God for forgive for them, but it also includes reflecting on how we have encountered the Lord throughout our day as well as all of the blessings He has given us that day, and then taking time to thank Him for those blessings. Being Catholic isn’t just feeling guilty about our sins, it’s also about being aware of God’s loving presence in our lives and giving Him thanks for his many blessings.
And gratitude is very powerful. Jesus praises the one leper who returned for a reason: because gratitude is so necessary and so transformative. Being grateful can transform how we see the world and how we see our own lives. One thing that I think almost everyone struggles with is jealousy: noticing what other people have and wondering why I don’t have those things, and then having negative feelings: either feeling badly about ourselves, feeling angry, and so on. It’s so easy to fall into that trap. This is not necessarily because we’re just ungrateful, selfish people: seeing what others have while ignoring what we have. That’s because God has created us to have infinite desires, so we are always going to desire more. However, only He, being infinite, can satisfy our infinite desires. But when we take time each day to reflect on and thank God for what He has given us, rather than dwelling on what He has given someone else, we fight back against that vice of jealousy and all of the negative power it has over us.
Gratitude also can transform how we see the world, others, and ourselves. It’s easy to focus on negative things and to ignore the good things: for example, to be aware of the shortcomings of others, while forgetting about all their good qualities and all of the good things they have done. But when we adopt a spirit of gratitude in our lives, we start to pay attention to those good things, and our whole outlook starts to be transformed. Last week I went through an airport and everything went very smoothly until I hit security; even though I have TSA pre-check which is supposed to make going through security very fast and easy, the line was very long and slow-moving. I was grumbling on the inside and then even on the outside. But what about how smooth everything else had been? How quickly I forgot about that! And what about the very fact that I was able to fly somewhere, something that the human race has only been able to do for the last few generations, and in fact, something my own grandparents hardly ever, or never, did. Gratitude cuts through all that negativity.
That’s not to say that gratitude means just ignoring bad things, pretending they don’t exist, in a Pollyanna-ish sort of way. It’s still necessary to be aware of things that are wrong or unjust or inefficient, etc., and to strive to correct or change those things. But gratitude involves not getting stuck in the mire of all that is wrong with the world. And gratitude is necessary in order for us to grow and thrive as human beings.
Finally, giving thanks to God is also a matter of justice – rendering unto others what is their due, or in this case, rendering unto God what is His due. Everything we have is a pure and gratuitous gift from God. Our lives, our family, our friends, our faith, our talents – it all comes from God. Not taking time to give thanks to God for what He has given us in such abundance is an act of injustice.
At every Mass we celebrate the Eucharist, when Jesus gives us His body and blood. The very word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Let us go forward now to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord with gratitude for the gift of Himself which He freely gives us.