Saturday, October 13, 2007

Giving Thanks

(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

These ten lepers who approach the Lord on his way to Jerusalem in the Gospel today are, in many ways, a model for our own spiritual life.

How do they begin? At first they are calling out for his pity, standing at a distance. Of course they must remain far off, because their disease is considered to be contagious. In much the same way, our own diseases of sin, selfishness and indifference keep us at a distance from God. But we too can call out from our misery, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”

And what is Jesus’ response? He says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now according to the Law of Israel, it was up to the priests to examine people with skin conditions and decide whether they were lepers who had to be excluded from the community. Jesus invites the ten lepers to address their situation through the ordinary practice of their religious tradition.

In the same way, when we decide that we are sick of our misery and sin and we call out to the Lord for healing, he invites us into the plain, ordinary practices of faith. He calls us to enter into the life of his church and the life of his sacraments. Sure, we can say, “I have spirituality, but I don’t need this quote-unquote ‘organized religion.’” Trouble is, when we try to live a life in the Spirit—which is what “spirituality” is supposed to mean—without a community of faith and teaching, well, we will have nobody to challenge our ideas and nobody to correct our misperceptions. And so we will eventually find out that our so-called spirituality is really just another kind of vanity and self-service.

But let’s say we have avoided this trap, this danger that the marketers of home-made “spirituality” have put before us. Instead we have called out to the Lord and have followed his call to enter into the life of his Church. Indeed, all of us who are here for Sunday Eucharist have presumably done this. Good for us, no? We’re all set, right?

Well, almost. We’ve gone as far as the nine lepers who were healed but who didn’t return to the Lord to give thanks. We must never take what we are receiving here in the Eucharist for granted. And for us who attend to our religion day after day, year after year, it’s easy to do. That’s why we should always notice that in both the first reading and the Gospel today, it is the foreigner who remembers to return and give thanks to God. Sometimes it takes the enthusiasm of the convert or of the one who has been away from the Lord to remind us how tremendous the gifts of God have been in our lives.

We have this great grace in our lives because God himself has not only invited us into it, but given us the willingness to follow and accept it. And this ought to produce a prayerful attitude of gratitude within us. In this Naaman the Syrian from the first reading is a model for us.

After he was healed by following the advice of Elisha the prophet, what is his response? He asks for the two mule-loads of earth. He does this because he will build an altar out of them, because he now realizes that there is no god but the God of that place, of the land of Israel. Naaman’s response to what the God of Israel has done for him is to assume an attitude of grateful worship.

And this is what our Mass will be if we do it well. The word “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek verb “to give thanks.” It is celebration of thanksgiving to God.

Part of the purpose of practicing our religion is to challenge us into noticing the goodness of God. And when we do, we need, like Naaman, like the lone leper in the Gospel, to return to the Lord in our heart and thank him for the healing and peace he has worked in our lives. And if we do this, we too will hear the words that Jesus offers to the leper who came back: “your faith has saved you.”

May we too begin again to return to the Lord to say, ‘thank you.’

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