GRATITUDE THAT GOES BEYOND “THANK YOU”
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
October 10, 2010
There is more than just following mere rules of civility and politeness that is at stake in today’s readings, as some might well normally imagine. Yes … Naaman the leper did well, not only because he returned to Elisha, retinue and all, but because of something far superior to mere thanks-giving, as we shall soon see.
Just as well, for we have gathered once again today, to do the eminently Christian communal activity on the day of the Lord – to give thanks to God, to do “Eucharist,” to celebrate our oneness, to extol our giftedness, and to proclaim our faith in an eminently giving and personal God. We have come back, like Naaman to give thanks. We have gathered together, to “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David” (2 Tim 2:8). We have returned, hopefully like that lone leper, to “glorify God in a loud voice.”
Today, we are probing into the depths of what biblical “gratitude” is all about. We are plunging deep into the nature of “thanksgiving,” as shown by the brilliant examples of two lepers from both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures. We stand at the basis of the core, essential meaning of doing “Eucharist” as Christian believers.
They say gratitude is the remembrance of the heart. The heart is the repository of all good things received, good deeds done to us by another, great gifts showered from the largesse of other people. Rightly does St. Paul counsel Timothy in the second reading: “Remember Jesus Christ.” Paul sounds very much like one who, despite being physically in chains, had a heart that soared free … free to remember … free to see beyond shackles and temporary imprisonment, free enough to be able to declare from the bottom of his heart: “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.” I say more. The heart goes further than merely remembering. The heart does more. The heart sees far ahead, and far beyond. A loving heart is a heart immersed in prophecy. It finds reasons for what it sees clearly, though veiled by current difficult predicaments. It finds reasons that, in the famous words of Pascal, reason itself might not know of. It finds enough reason to prophesy: “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:13).
I would like to suggest that Christian gratitude is precisely one that goes beyond remembering. It pierces through mere recall or “remembrances of things past.” It sees more. It recognizes the giver. And recognition gives way to acclaim, to prophetic proclamation, to doing thanks. (The Latin version of “to give thanks” is “gratias agere,” which is more akin to “doing.”)
We all have experienced being hurt after doing something really great in our eyes and not getting recognized for it. We all know what it means to go out of our way, bend over backwards, and all we get for our heroic efforts is an indifferent stare. Know why we get hurt? Know why we get so offended by people whom we, in disappointment, refer to as ingrates? It is for the simple reason that we were not recognized; our act was not acknowledged; and the beautiful aspect of our personhood was not seen. We have an idiomatic expression in Tagalog that epitomizes our pain: “Hindi man lang ako tinao!” (He or she did not even treat me as a living person.)
Ingratitude hurts for the simple reason that it is a callous form of bad-willed blindness to the good done. We all have our own stories to share about this. I, too, have my own. I, too, have felt bad that after pouring my heart out to my work over the past years, what I got, was silent indifference at best, and painful accusations, at worst, from people who stood to gain from my work. But lest you get me wrong, I, too, have caused others a lot of grief, by my own indifference to all the good, and to all the persons who did me good in the past. We have a name for this ingratitude, yours and mine … we call it sin. And this is part and parcel of the story of each one of us.
Today, I invite you to reclaim your stories. I invite you, first of all, to recall Naaman, the leper, who returned to Elisha and did a whole lot more by proclaiming for all to hear: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” His gratitude bloomed and broadened into deeper recognition of the ultimate source of the gift of healing. He did much more … His recognition of the gifting God spilled over into action (remember “gratias agere”) … “I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other God except the Lord.”
We have come together to “do Eucharist.” But before we could “break the bread and drink the cup of unity,” we needed to acknowledge our own brokenness. No wonder we opened the celebration with the Confiteor, (I confess) the acknowledgment of our sinfulness. But, as every liturgist worth his salt would tell us, the real focus of the Confiteor is not our human sinfulness, but the recognition of the merciful and forgiving God. The Liturgy of the Word opened with all of us flinging wide open our hearts to welcome God and acknowledge the “magnalia Dei,” the great things He has done for us. Only after the acknowledgment of sins could we acknowledge the God of glory, the God of compassion, the God who is giver of everything that is good … “Glory to God in the highest …”
The statistics of the Gospel passage is downright lopsided in favor of the ingrates. Only one out of ten came back. Only one of ten saw beyond the gift received and acknowledged the giver. Nine out of ten were healed and all they saw was some “good fortune” befalling them. Only one out of ten saw the “good God” doing wonders for them. All ten probably remembered their good fortune. The nine most likely went their way smiling and telling others of the fulfillment of something that went beyond their wildest dreams. But one out of ten went beyond remembering and resorted to doing thanks: “realizing that he had been healed, [he] returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”
I am not in the best of health at this time of my life. Now that I feel bothered by a relative lack of health, I am reminded of the sobering reality about myself, and my lack of gratitude to God. It dawned on me that I have been taking the gift of health for granted. In many ways, I see the signs, not of Naaman, and the one leper out of ten who came back, but of the nine ungrateful lepers who ignored the one who gave them much more than just healing.
Today, as I lead you in the communal act of worship, I am not ashamed to acknowledge my sore lack of recognition of the God who remains faithful, despite my lack of perspective and vision. Even as I declare my blindness, I also proclaim the enlightenment and the hope which today’s liturgy, and your presence as fellow believers, offer me: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” I am convicted by what I see and hear today – God’s Word and your living examples. And the words of a favorite American author named Louis Evely whose book I read 32 years ago haunt me no end: “If you have nothing to thank God for, there is nothing Christian in you!”