Gratitude and Dealing with Ingratitude, 32nd Wednesday (I), November 15, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Albert the Great
November 15, 2017
Wis 6:1-11, Ps 82, Lk 17:11-19

 

To listen to an audio version of today’s homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In the scene in today’s Gospel, we encounter the one grateful leper. Why does Jesus stress that he was a Samaritan, a foreigner? Why does he emphasize that none of the Jews he had healed of leprosy returned to thank God? I think the reason is because the Jews should have been particularly well-prepared to say thanks. The Jews had so many psalms of Thanksgiving that they were regularly praying that should have made returning to thank Jesus for the miracle much easier. Is it because they were complainers, like their ancestors in the desert who complained about food much more than they thanked God for their liberation from Egypt and so many other miracles God had worked for them? Of course we don’t know why nine people who were cured of one of the worst illnesses, something that ostracized them from the community, from their families, from the Temple, when cured, failed to express gratitude for the miracle. But we have much to learn from the one who did return.
  • There’s a very important dialogue of prayer that takes place in the heart of every Mass that we should ponder as to how it impacts our life. Far greater as a hymn of thanksgiving to God than the Psalms we pray together with the Jews in the Liturgy of the Hours is the Mass. In the middle of Mass, at the Preface Dialogue, the priest prays, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and everyone responds, “It is right and just.” The priest then turns to God the Father and declares, “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks!” It’s not only our duty — and it is a duty for us to thank the Lord who has given us life and every other blessing — but it’s also our salvation. Just as the grateful Samaritan leper today received upon his return a far greater miracle than the cure of leprosy — when Jesus told him, “Your faith has saved you” — so when we thank the Lord we are likewise introduced into the mystery of salvation by faith. But we need to be grateful to receive the gift of the Mass, because it’s only those who are grateful who can appreciate the unmerited uber-miracle of salvation. The priest also prays, “always and everywhere.” We are called to thank the Lord at all times and in every place, in the humanly happy times of births and weddings and successes, as well as in the humanly difficult times of suffering, death and failure. I like to think that the reason why the Samaritan leper returned to say thanks is because he was thanking the Lord always and everywhere, including during his leprosy, and perhaps even because of his leprosy, since that disease had brought him to confide far more in the Lord for a cure.
  • For us as Catholics, it’s essential that we learn how to thank the Lord always and everywhere as a sweet duty that leads us more securely to salvation. Like the Jews in the desert, we can often be complainers, who obsess about what we don’t have rather than gratefully thank God for what we do. We can be eaten alive by envy such that even when those we love are blessed, we can be upset about it, because we personally don’t have those same blessings. If we’re not  thanking the Lord always and everywhere, however, we will often not thank him sufficiently when he does something truly spectacular for us. Like children, we may say a “quick word of thanks,” but then not really remain in a perpetual attitude of gratitude. That’s what we’re called to be as Christians, people who are constantly thanking God for the gift of our faith, of Creation, of Redemption, of his Son in the Sacraments, of the ability to pray, of the opportunities for us to love others, of the promise of heaven, of our family members, of our fellow Christians, of our Pope, and so many other things.
  • We become a person who thanks God always and everywhere — and learns how to thank others too! — in our prayer. Many think that some people are born naturally bubbly and grateful and that others are born with bad digestion such that they’re regularly complaining. Others say certain cultures are more expressively grateful and others are more stern and moaning. It’s not principally a thing of temperament or culture, however. I think it begins with our prayer. In our prayer, do we spend the majority of our time praising and thanking God, or do we spend it begging for mercy, or do we spend it asking for things for others or ourselves, or do we spend it whining? The majority of our time in prayer should be in praise and thanksgiving if we’re every going to be able to thank God always and everywhere. That’s a habit we can form. It’s a habit I’ve needed to form over many years, where we count our blessings and thank God for each of them. The more we do so, the more we see these blessings, and the more we acquire that attitude of gratitude that is essential for someone who is fully Catholic. And Fr. Solanus Casey who will be beatified this Saturday used to be, we need to thank God in advance for all he will give in response to our prayers.
  • Today in the Book of Wisdom, God tells us that he holds to a greater responsibility those to whom he has given more. He reminds kings and magistrates that he will hold them to a more “rigorous scrutiny,” and so challenges them to desire and long for his words, be instructed in them, and keep holy his precepts in order to become holy. Likewise for us, who have received the greatest blessings in the world — which are not mansions and lands and bank accounts, but the Sacraments, Sacred Scripture, and faith — he will hold us to a more rigorous scrutiny of how grateful we are for these gifts that are so much more valuable even than a cure from leprosy. He will give us all the grace we need to meet those higher standards of thanksgiving, but we need to desire and long for those graces and be grateful for them when they come.
  • I would also like to highlight something else from today’s Gospel. That just as only one out of ten returned to thank God, so often when we do good to others, others will often treat us with ingratitude. There’s a common experience for example among priests that we can ten complaints for every compliment or thank you letter. Bishops I know tell me the ratio is 100 to one. Just as people don’t thank God for miracles, we shouldn’t be surprised if often we don’t receive gratitude for our actions. We do need to be prepared for that, so that, first, we’re grateful when someone has the character to say a word of appreciation, and two, we’re grateful for when someone doesn’t acknowledge what we’ve done, so that we can give all of the glory to God and unite ourselves to Christ more deeply in relating to what he himself does not receive.
  • The saints the whole Church celebrates today gives us a great lesson about how we can become people who live up to this standard of gratitude. St. Albert the Great, the 13th century Dominican Doctor of the Church, ended up writing 38 huge volumes on theology, Biblical interpretation, physics, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, chemistry and biology and because of that prodigious output. It might be presumed that all of this came easy for him. It didn’t. He needed to persevere through various struggles in his studies. He said later on in life that he had become very discouraged and was strongly inclined to return to secular life but our Lady appeared to him and promised to ask for him illuminating grace in his studies if he would persevere. He decided to persevere, he received that light, and he bore tremendous fruit. His writings on science all began with wonder and gratitude for the way God the Creator had ordered the gift of his creation. It was an act of Thanksgiving. Even more so his writings on the gift of Sacred Scripture and on the mystery of who God is. He was able to pass on that wonder and gratitude for the gift of learning, wisdom, study, to so many students, and in his poverty, chastity and obedience, was a living thanksgiving for God who is the true wealth, true love, and true source of freedom.
  • The greatest way we learn to become people of Thanksgiving is through praying the Mass aright. The Greek word for Eucharist means Thanksgiving, and this is the great prayer of Thanskgiving that we pray together with Christ to the Father. I’ve always been struck by the words of consecration. “At the time he was betrayed, … Jesus took bread, and giving thanks … said, ‘… This is my body … given…  for you.’” “In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and once more giving thanks, gave it to his disciples, saying, … ‘This is the chalice of my blood.’” Jesus was able to give thanks even on the eve of his crucifixion! Jesus was able to give thanks for the opportunity to offer his body and blood for us and our salvation! If he can give thanks in these circumstances, then we can not only learn from him in the Mass, but receive his very help, so that we, too, may give the Father thanks always and everywhere. That is our blessed duty and our salvation.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
WIS 6:1-11

Hear, O kings, and understand;
learn, you magistrates of the earth’s expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude
and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord
and sovereignty by the Most High,
who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels.
Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly,
and did not keep the law,
nor walk according to the will of God,
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you,
because judgment is stern for the exalted–
For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy
but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.
For the Lord of all shows no partiality,
nor does he fear greatness,
Because he himself made the great as well as the small,
and he provides for all alike;
but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.
To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressed
that you may learn wisdom and that you may not sin.
For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy,
and those learned in them will have ready a response.
Desire therefore my words;
long for them and you shall be instructed.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 82:3-4, 6-7

R. (8a) Rise up, O God, bring judgment to the earth.
Defend the lowly and the fatherless;
render justice to the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the lowly and the poor;
from the hand of the wicked deliver them.
R. Rise up, O God, bring judgment to the earth.
I said: “You are gods,
all of you sons of the Most High;
yet like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
R. Rise up, O God, bring judgment to the earth.

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.”