God’s Will for Us to Give Thanks, 32nd Wednesday (II), November 12, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr
November 12, 2014
Ti 3:1-7, Ps 23, Lk 17:11-19

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18), we sang as we prepared for today’s Gospel. Our Christian vocation is one of continuous thanksgiving in all circumstances. We have a beautiful dialogue in the heart of every Mass when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the people reply, “It is right and just” and the priest adds, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father.” We pray those words on Easter Sunday but also throughout Lent, we pray them and nuptial Masses as well as funerals, we pray them in the midst of prosperity and persecution. It is right and just always and everywhere, in all circumstances, to praise and thank God. To do so is first a religious duty, out of gratitude to God for all that he has given us and done for us. But it’s also the path to our salvation. We see the salvific importance of thanksgiving in today’s Gospel.
  • Jesus today heals ten lepers. To have leprosy in the ancient world was about the worst thing that could happen to you. Not only would Hansen’s disease eat away your flesh and bones, not only would it lead to about the most sickening smell imaginable, but it would lead to your total banishment from society. You had to live apart from civilization. You were cut off from your family. You were cut off from simple things like being able to go to the market for groceries or to the well for water. In some sense you were cut off from God because you couldn’t go to the synagogue on Saturdays or the Temple for major feasts. People couldn’t approach closer than 50 feet from you and when you were near anyone you needed to ring a bill and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” One of the toughest things of being a leper was that the only people with whom you could relate were other lepers, with all the psychological, physical and spiritual problems that would attend leprosy.
  • When Jesus approached, the lepers with voices trained from yelling out “Unclean! Unclean!,” stood at a distance from Jesus and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Very few people had genuine mercy on them, but just tried to stay as far away from them as possible, as if the leprosy were somehow their fault. Jesus did have mercy. He responded, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” because priests were the only ones under the Mosaic law who were able, intelligently, to pronounce a leper healed and return him or her to society. Even to say this was to imply that he had cured them, but he actually didn’t pronounce them cured. It took an act of faith on their part to start journeying to find a priest simply on Jesus’ word. But that’s what they did. As they were journeying, however, St. Luke tells us one of them, a Samaritan, realizing he had been healed, turned around. Before he would show himself to the priests, he wanted to thank the one who had given him a miracle. Glorifying God, he came to Jesus, fell at his feet, and thanked him. Jesus’ words are very powerful. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” He knew he had cured all ten of leprosy, but only one was showing gratitude. Jesus then pointed out that the man who returned was a Samaritan, someone for whom the Jews had centuries of animosity as those who did not worship God aright. “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” What he was really implying was, “Where are the Jews?” Where are those who are accustomed to pray,“Give thanks to the Lord who is good, whose love endures forever!” (Ps 107:1; Ps 118:1); who chant, “With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks” (Ps 30:13); who declare, “We thank you, God, we give thanks; we call upon your name, declare your wonderful deeds” (Ps 75:2). None returned. And the reason why it mattered so much to Jesus was not because he was a jealous insecure egomaniac who wanted people to appreciate his generosity and enter into his debt. No, he wanted to give them all a far greater gift than curing them of their leprosy. He wanted to give them, through faith, the gift of salvation. He wanted to enter into a relationship with them that would lead them to the eternal cure of all physical and spiritual ills. And it was only the grateful Samaritan who received this gift. Jesus turned to the healed leper at his feet who was still thanking and glorifying God and said to him, “Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you!” Gratitude is essential to receive this gift of salvation through faith because it’s gratitude that opens us up to the Giver of salvation, it’s what makes us receptive. God wants to give this gift to all but we need to be ready to receive it and in order for us to do that we have to appreciate it and all God is seeking to do. It was only the grateful Samaritan who had this genuine openness through gratitude. He shows us, as we pray every day at Mass, that “it is right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give [God] thanks and praise.”
  • For us we’ve got an ever greater reason or gratitude, because we’ve been healed by God of the spiritual leprosy of sin, reconciled to God and to each other, and made eternal communion possible. St. Paul writes to Titus and the Church of Crete in today’s first reading, “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But,” — and what a but this is! — “when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” How much ought we to be filled with this spirit of gratitude to God the Father for this kind and generous love, for this mercy, for this rebirth and renewal, for this justification by grace, for the inheritance of eternal life, for Jesus and the Holy Spirit!
  • The fact is, however, that many times we’re not grateful. Not only do we not give God thanks and praise at all times and in every circumstance but often we give them the opposite: we complain. Rather than expressing gratitude for what we have, we murmur about what we don’t have. Rather than remembering all of the deeds of the Lord, we treat him with a spirit of “What have you done for me lately?” We often become spiritually spoiled brats rather than grateful, trusting, loving children. And if Jesus could say of the healed Jewish lepers, “Where are the other nine?,” how much more could he say that about us Christians, who have received far more blessings in the new and eternal Covenant than our Jewish elder brothers and sisters in the old Covenant. Jesus could say, “Where are the other nine?” with regard to Sunday Mass, which is the greatest form of thanksgiving — the Greek word Eucharist means “Thanksgiving.” Jesus could say, “Where are the other nine?” with regard to the Sacrament of his Mercy that restores us to the way to salvation. Jesus could say, “Where are the other nine?” about Sacred Scripture, which bathes us in the cleansing, saving power of his word. Jesus could say, “Where are the other nine?” with regard to the Cross he gives us so as to help us go the way of the grain of wheat and bear fruit and to make us humble and small enough to enter through the eye of the needle into life. But we don’t often thank him as we should because we obsess about what we think we lack rather than are grateful for all that we have received.
  • That’s why today’s Responsorial Psalm is so important. I think it points to one of the most important aspects in all Christian spirituality. We pray, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” That “want” means “lack.” With the Lord as our shepherd, we lack nothing; we have it all! If we really believe this, all of life changes. We begin to see that the things we don’t have in life really aren’t important because the Lord is our treasure and as long as we have him, we’re the richest and most blessed people on the planet. The Lord is the one who gives us repose, who leads us, who refreshes us, who guides us in right paths, who accompanies us in dark valleys, who gives us courage, who spreads the table before us, who anoints us, who makes it possible for us to dwell with him forever. Because of this truth of the Lord’s shepherding love and unending pastoral care, we should never cease thanking the Lord. Because it is his will to be with us in all circumstances, that’s why it’s his will for us in all circumstances to give thanks.
  • When people come to confession and say that they’ve given in to a spirit of complaining, or envy, or bitterness, I often give them as a penance ten minutes of prayer of thanksgiving as the medicine they need. I ask them to thank the Lord specifically for his blessings and to start to enumerate them. I tell them that if they’re struggling to find things for which to thank the Lord, just to look at their right hand and they would find 25 things to thank him for just with all that works without pain in that hand. But we don’t need to go to confession in order to get a penance to start thanking God in this way. Our daily mental prayer should begin with praise and thanksgiving to God, praise for who the Lord is and how lovable he is in himself and thanksgiving for the ceaseless gifts he has given to us and to the world. If we become true people of gratitude, our whole attitude toward everything will change, and then we will be open to further blessings that the Lord has in store for us, just like the grateful leper received the best blessing through thanksgiving.
  • This spirit of thanksgiving can make us grateful and strong even in the midst of persecution. We see this in the life of St. Josaphat whom the Church celebrates today. He was born Orthodox in the Ukraine in 1580. In 1595, in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Metropolitan of Kiev and five bishops, representing millions of Ruthenians, came back into communion with Rome after the split in 1054. Josaphat would eventually become a monk and with a mentor would preach in favor of Christian unity in the midst of tremendous opposition — fundamentally political — against reunion with Rome. In 1617, he was ordain Bishop of Vitebsk and soon thereafter appointed Archbishop of Polotsk. There he continued to suffer to bring about the cause of unity. It would have been very easy for him to complain to God that all he was doing was seeking to do God’s will and was suffering tremendously as a result of it. But he was very happy to suffer because he knew that the Lord was with him in the midst of persecution. He never ceased to give God thanks and praise. When people were threatening to kill him, he said, “If I am accounted so worthy as to deserve martyrdom, then I am not afraid to die.” When people in the city of Vitebsk were plotting against him, he said, “You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, in the marketplace. I am here among you as your shepherd and you ought to know that I should be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of St. Peter and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” His enemies got their chance on November 12, 1623. He returned home after prayer to find people attacking those who worked for him. He said to the persecutors, “My children, what are you doing with my servants? If you have anything against me, here I am, but leave them alone.” They began to cry, “Kill the papist! and he was pierced by a bullet and brained with a halberd, as he gave his life in grateful thanksgiving for the salvation and union offered to us in Christ. Gratitude in the daily things of life can lead us to be grateful even in great trials and to recognize that the gift we have in the Lord and in his salvation is worth a thousand martyrdoms. St. Josaphat’s gratitude throughout life and at the moment of his death has led to an even greater placing, eternal salvation, where he now thanks God and intercedes for us and for Church unity as the angels and saints sing forever in thanks to God.
  • As we enter now into the greatest act of thanksgiving, the very liturgy founded by Christ so that we might give thanks to God, we recall that Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread and wine into his hands, thanked God the Father, changed them into himself and gave them to himself. To enter into the Mass is to enter into Jesus’ thanks. This is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ti 3:1-7

Beloved:
Remind them to be under the control of magistrates and authorities,
to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise.
They are to slander no one, to be peaceable, considerate,
exercising all graciousness toward everyone.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded,
slaves to various desires and pleasures,
living in malice and envy,
hateful ourselves and hating one another.But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Responsorial Psalm ps 23:1b-3a, 3bc-4, 5, 6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Gospel lk 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And 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.
He was a Samaritan.
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?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”