October 10, 2010
A young man was a victim of drug addiction. Upon his recovery, he just could not get to forgive himself for what he did with his life. The priest counseled him. He showed him a clean and crisp 20-dollar bill. “How much is this?” he asked the young man. “Twenty dollars.” The priest crumpled it, threw it on the ground and crushed it with his foot. Then he took the bill and asked, “How much is this?” “Well,” the man said, “it is still twenty dollars.” The priest then said, “You see, we are this bill. No matter how crumpled and dirty we become due to our sins, in the eyes of God, we still have the same value.”
God’s love for us is unconditional, infinite and universal. During the public ministry of Jesus, he made it a point to show that he has come to offer salvation to all people, regardless of creed, gender, age, and economic and social status. He reached out to the poor as well as to the rich, to the Jews as well as to Gentiles, sinners and just, slaves and freemen, young and old, men and women. For in fact, he has come to call all sinners to conversion and salvation. In the eyes of God, everybody enjoys His unconditional love and mercy; everyone is precious and special.
Such is the case in the Gospel today. The lepers were social outcasts. Not only were they afflicted with a horrible disease; they were also considered dead by society. They were ostracized and expelled from the towns. But Jesus did not avoid nor did he reject them. In fact, he showed them special compassion and he cured them. For a leper to be cured means having his life back: he regains his health and strength, and still more importantly he is restored back to his place in society, his family and friends.
Such a great blessing should be an overwhelming reason to give thanks and praise to God. But unfortunately, out of the ten who were healed, only one came back to thank Jesus – a Samaritan. He was not only healed; he was also saved. The rest were healed but not saved. Listen to the words of Jesus to the Samaritan: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
With this statement, Jesus is saying that gratitude is an expression of faith and a way to salvation. As followers of Christ, we must and should be thankful to God at all times. Saint Ambrose said, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” Why is gratitude a duty? St. Paul explains: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God” (1Thess 5:16-18). It is God’s will that we give thanks to Him, not because He needs it and demands it from us. Rather, in thanking God, we ourselves are the direct beneficiaries. The fourth Preface on weekdays eloquently expresses this: “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.”
In other words, gratitude helps us grow in grace, thereby making us pleasing in the eyes of God. The Latin “gratitudo”, meaning thankfulness, comes from “gratus”, which means pleasing. And also notice that the word “gratitude” contains two words: “great” and “attitude.” A person who is grateful has a great attitude. There are several reasons for this. First, gratitude comes from humility. A proud person is ungrateful because he thinks he is the source of everything, and that he does not need anybody’s help. But a humble person always acknowledges that all blessings come from God. Consequently, the second reason, gratitude leads to the truth. Gratitude is simply an acknowledgement of that most basic truth: everything comes from God, for He is the Creator and the source of all things. “Gratitude,” according to Jean Baptiste Massieu, “is the memory of the heart.” And third, gratitude is the perfect antidote to sin, which is basically rooted in selfishness. Gratitude moves our gaze away from ourselves and directs us towards God and others, making us more open and generous to our neighbors. In this way, the graces that come from God are not hoarded, but are shared and flow freely and more abundantly in the community. This, then, is what Jesus meant when he said to the grateful Samaritan: “Stand up, and go your way; your faith has saved you.” A grateful heart is generous because it trusts in God’s providence, and when God’s graces are shared, there is salvation. Genuine thanks always leads to giving, which in turn is the key to saving.
A priest visited a friend who owns a big ranch. He was shown around, and at one point his friend introduced to him a very handsome horse. “Father, this horse is my favorite because he has religious training. When I want him to run, I just say, ‘Thanks be to God!’ When I want him to stop, I say, ‘Praise the Lord.’” The priest was curious. So he mounted the horse, and said, “Thanks be to God!” The horse obediently moved forward. Every time he said, “Thanks be to God”, the horse ran faster and faster. The priest was enjoying the ride when suddenly he noticed they were heading towards a cliff. But in his excitement, he could not remember the command. After what seemed an eternity, just when they were at the edge of the cliff, he managed to say, “Praise the Lord!” The horse screeched to a halt. The priest heaved a sigh of relief, wiped the cold sweat on his forehead, and patted the horse on its neck saying, “Boy, that was close. Thanks be to God!”
It is always easy to say “Thanks be to God.” For others, it may only be a casual and meaningless expression. But the Lord wants something more: not only to say “Thank You” to Him, or to give thanks to Him. Thanksgiving is good, but “thanks-living” is even better. The challenge is for us to live the spirit of gratitude. This spirit always leads us to trust God more, be humble, truthful, and generous. The Mass is called Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. Every time we come to Mass, then, let us be reminded of the challenge to live this spirit of gratitude all the days of our lives. Let me close with a reminder from the words of G.K. Chesterton: “When we were children, we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002