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February 24, 2017

On Gratitude And Humble Obedience

Today we consider the importance gratitude and humble obedience in our Christian journey.  Gratitude helps us overcome the entitlement complex that makes us take many things for granted. Gratitude is that attitude of virtue that enables us to recognize that everything we have is a gift, starting from life itself. In our Gospel passage today, the sole leper who came back to thank Jesus is commended for showing gratitude because our Lord knows that gratitude is vital for our spiritual health. Gratitude helps us to acknowledge God in the works of creation. In our own lives, next to honesty, gratitude in one fundamental quality that we expect of people we deal with. How many times have we chosen not to help someone because he/she is ungrateful? Ingratitude is not only unjust, but also an illusion because everything we have is a gift from God: creation, life, talents, opportunities, love, friendship, and even salvation – everything comes from God’s bounty.

In the First Reading Naaman, a Syrian army commander seeks a cure for his leprosy from the prophet Elisha. It was humiliating enough for him to go down to Israel – an inferior military power then – for a cure. But more insulting was being asked to go and bathe seven times in the Jordan. Knowing that the murky waters of the Jordan could not be compared to the crystal-clear spring waters of the Golan Heights and other parts of his native Syria, Naaman refused the prophet’s instruction. We too face seemingly humiliating situations in life, which ironically hold the key to our freedom and happiness. We struggle, for instance, to reconcile with troublesome relatives and friends, to forgive those who have caused us great harm, to embrace acts of self-mortification, to accommodate those we do not like, or to remain generous to an “ungrateful” person or those we consider to be insensitive to our own needs. Some people even stay away from the confessional; because they would not tell their sins to a mere man. We all have our own River Jordan to bathe in.

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Dear friends, just as Naaman remained a leper while he refused to wash in the Jordan, we likewise remain in our spiritual leprosy, so long as we refuse to do the hard things required by our faith. When Naaman finally took the ritual bath, he was restored to full health – physically and spiritually. This is shown in his expression of gratitude. He acknowledged the supremacy of the God of Israel and vowed to worship Him alone. Humble obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit helps us to acknowledge our utter dependence on divine help and also cultivates an attitude of gratitude in us. In the Gospel, Jesus’ command to the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priest seemed as ordinary as Naaman being asked to bathe in the Jordan. Nevertheless, they obeyed and all ten were cured of their physical leprosy, but only one achieved total healing – the one who went back to show gratitude to the Lord. Jesus said to him: “Your faith has saved you”, showing that gratitude is an eloquent profession of faith which heals us of our spiritual leprosy.

We are all spiritual lepers as a result of Original Sin. We got infected with mortal selfishness, which decays the soul just as leprosy wastes the body. Through Christ, however, we are redeemed from this leprosy, and given access to divine grace through the Church and the sacraments. Our recognition of the sacrifice of Christ the Lord is the reason we believe in Him and worship Him. That same Lord Jesus wants us to embrace an attitude of gratitude. That way we are able to combat the many leprous conditions affecting humanity today- sinful rebellion, ignorance, hatred, division, addictions, etc. Every time we praise and thank God for his goodness, our hearts are more open to divine grace, healing, and forgiveness. Gratitude helps us against self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and self-absorption. Gratitude builds bridges, unites communities and softens hearts. Gratitude keeps narcissism away. It neutralizes depression and relieves anxiety. Gratitude is one of the most beautiful flowers in the garden of virtue!

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Brethren, God’s goodness, and faithfulness should move us to offer a constant sacrifice of praise. We need an attitude of gratitude as there is so much to be thankful for. Therefore, let us take time today to give thanks for all the gifts of life and the gift of each other; for all those who have made the difference in our life. Let us thank God for the gift of our family and friends; for the midwives who help to bring us into the world; for the teachers who help to shape our young minds, for the Police who keep our community safe; for those who care for the sick, the aged and disabled in our community; for the priests and religious who help to birth and nurture us in Christ; for those who do thankless jobs – clearing our garbage and cleaning our streets, the Emergency Services who respond to our distress calls; for the soldiers who give their today for our tomorrow. Let us be grateful too for those who do not like us and those who do not believe in us – they give us a reason to work harder so as to prove them wrong. We can spend the rest of our lives showing gratitude and it would not be enough.

This week, therefore, let us meditate on the words of Thomas Merton: “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” Amen!

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