09 October 2016

Don't be one of the nine!

28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Jesus heals ten lepers. How does he do it? He doesn't pray over them, or spit on them like he did the man born blind; he doesn't allow his tunic to be touched, or command the leprosy to begone. He tells the men to go tell the priests that they are healed. And they are healed as they run off to report to the priests. In other words, they hear Christ's Word and they obey it. By listening to and complying with Jesus' order, the men are healed. Nothing fancy. No big drama, nothing worthy of an audience. Just hear his Word and obey. The drama comes after one of the healed men returns to Jesus to thank him for the miracle. Just one. . .of the ten. And this one grateful soul is a Samaritan – a member of a heretical Jewish sect that the majority of Jews believe to be unclean. Jesus says to the man, “'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.'” Nine are healed. One is both healed and saved. What's the difference between the nine and the one? The one who offers his thanks to God is not only healed of his disease, he – a foreign idolater – is also restored to righteous with the Father. Gratitude is more than good manners; it's soul-saving.

Once, not too long ago, a seminarian asked me what would my motto be if I were ever made a bishop.* I said, “I'd be a good Mississippi bishop and my motto would be 'Y'all Come!'” Actually, it would be “Deo gratis!” Thanks be to God. The rock hard center of prayer – and thus the center from which we grow in holiness – is gratitude. Nothing beats gratitude for growing in genuine humility, and humility is the essential ingredient in prayer. If I cannot or will not acknowledge my total dependence on God for everything that I have and for everything that I am, then I cannot be humble; in fact, I dwell in ruinous pride, and my fall will be long and painful. Giving God thanks does nothing for Him. He doesn't need my thanks or praise or good wishes or compliments. He doesn't need my prayers either. God is God – unchanging and unchangeable by anything He has created. Like all prayer, gratitude changes the one praying. As I give thanks, I grow in humility. As I grow in humility, my prayer life deepens and improves. As my prayer life deepens and improves, I am better able to receive the grace God has always, already given me. The better I am to receive grace, the more I resemble Christ.

That one grateful Samaritan was not only freed from leprosy, he was freed from sin and death and given a place at the heavenly wedding feast. He not only became physically whole again, he became spiritually reunited with his Father. His obedience to Christ's Word cleansed his body, and his gratitude cleansed his soul. He is once again a whole human person given over to the mission and ministry of Christ Jesus. What happened to the ungrateful nine? We don't know. We do know that they were Jews, that is, not Samaritans. More than the foreign idolater who remembers to give thanks, these nine should've known that their healing was a godly miracle. Yet, they never returned to give Christ thanks. Given their education, cultural traditions, religious upbringing, they should've known to praise God for their own good. But they didn't. Why? Maybe they were too excited at being healed? Maybe they were too stunned to speak? Or maybe, having grown up in their religious tradition, they had grown complacent, spiritually-lazy, and had allowed contempt for God to creep into their souls. Whatever their reason or excuse, they miss a chance to heal their relationship with the Father with the simple act of thanksgiving.

So, here's the question: are you the one who gives thanks, or are you one of the nine? Like me, you are probably like the grateful one half the time and the ungrateful ones the other half. Remembering to be grateful in our entitlement culture can [be quite the challenge]. The mantra of “my rights” and “I am owed” and “Give me mine” can drive even the holiest Catholic to forgetfulness. Like any other act of virtue, being grateful is a good habit, one developed over time with constant practice and a sense of determination to succeed. Singers, musicians, actors rehearse. Athletes practice. Christians pray and give thanks. It's what we do and who we are. With our thoughts, words, and deeds; with our every day lives, warts and all, we are prayers of thanksgiving. Here's my challenge to you: this next week, make giving God thanks for everything you have and everything you are you number one prayer priority. Don't ask for anything. Just give Him thanks and praise. Nothing more. Even thank Him for what you haven't yet received. I predict that your prayer life, your life in Christ, will change dramatically. Pray gratitude and receive all the Father has already, always given you. 
* I can't express in mere words how horrible this would be for me. Seriously, I can't think of a better way for God to punish me on earth for my many sins.  [shudder]

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