28th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 5:14–17; 2 Timothy 2:8–13; Luke 17:11–19
Where the South begins If the young are to become grateful, we must teach them. Anumber of years ago a Chicago high school student went to Nicaragua during his summer vacation to do volunteer work. He accompanied a medical team to Wiwili, a tiny mountain village. Life in the village was primitive.
Most of the children had no clothes and were inadequately fed. The houses, built right on the ground, were made from old lumber and banana leaves. The medical team vaccinated the villagers against polio, measles, and DPT. Sometimes they had to turn children away because they had already gotten the disease. The high school boy found this especially heartbreaking. He wrote: “By the end of the first week of work, I started feeling sorry—even guilty— for the conditions these people lived in. I became homesick and depressed. “One night I was sitting outside in the darkness. I was thinking about home, my girlfriend, and why I had volunteered. I asked myself why people had to live like this. Whose fault was it? Why did God permit it? “Then I heard someone in the darkness. It was José Santos, the schoolteacher and the father of the family that I lived with. He sat down next to me, tilted his chair back against the wall, and stared up at the sky. “After a minute, he broken the silence, saying, ‘Isn’t it great!’ “I questioned what he said, and he repeated, ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ His eyes were still staring up at the sky. “I tilted my head and looked up. I hadn’t noticed that the sky was lit up with millions of stars. “It was spectacular. The two of us just sat there looking up at the stars. It was an experience I will never forget. “The next morning I got up early to bathe. Walking through the woods to the river where we washed, I stopped to look around. Everything was green. The only sounds were those of birds and running water. “Then I remembered what Jose had said: ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ At that moment I felt great. Everything fell into place. “Never before had I felt so thankful for all that God had given me. Never before had I felt so loved. “As we vaccinated the villagers that day, I had such a big smile on my face that my cheeks actually hurt toward the end of the afternoon.’’ Ilike that story. It makes two important points. First, it recalls the two groups of people whom Jesus talks about in today’s gospel: those who are grateful for God’s gifts to them and those who are not. Second, the story illustrates the point that if children grow up to be ungrateful, it’s probably because they were never taught to be grateful. The high school student in the story became grateful because José Santos taught him to be grateful. Let’s take a closer look at this latter point— that if children grow up to be ungrateful, it’s probably because they were never taught to be grateful. Some time ago someone sent a letter to Ann Landers. It contained an advertisement for United Technologies Corporation of Hartford, Connecticut, clipped from the Wall Street Journal. Ann reprinted the words of the ad in her column. They read: “Someone once asked a Southerner . . . ‘Where does the South actually begin?’ The Southerner said, proudly, ‘When you notice the children say, “Yes, sir,’’ and “No, ma’am.’’ ’ “But good manners are not a matter of geography. There are as many polite children in Caribou, Maine;Wichita, Kans.; and Tacoma,Wash.; as there are in Natchez,Miss. Children don’t learn politeness from a postmark. They learn it from a parent. “You’ll know you’ve done a good job of teaching when your child says, ‘Thank you for teaching me to say, “Thank you.’’ ’ ’’ That ad says it all. Gratitude is something that parents must teach their children. And one of the best ways to teach gratitude to children is the way Jose Santos taught the Chicago high school student. He shared with him his own reasons for being grateful to God. Another example of this kind of sharing is provided by Byron Dell. Byron grew up on a farm in Nebraska. When he was eight years old, he had a pony named Frisky. Sometimes the pony lived up to its name. One morning when Byron was getting the cows, Frisky bolted off at a breakneck speed. Byron held on for dear life, and he emerged unhurt. That night Byron’s father accompanied him upstairs to bed and asked his son to kneel with him and thank God that he was not hurt. There, beside Byron’s bed, the two knelt as his father prayed out loud a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving to God. That incident happened 55 years ago, but Byron never forgot it. It moved him deeply and gave him a greater appreciation of his father. Above all, it taught him to be grateful. And ever since, he has made gratitude to God a regular part of his life. In conclusion, today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves two things. First, to which group of people do we belong? Do we belong to those who are grateful, like the Samaritan? Or do we belong to those who are ungrateful, like the other nine lepers who were healed? Second, if we are adults, are we teaching our children to be grateful to God? Or is this something we are, perhaps, overlooking in the rat race of modern life? If we have overlooked it, maybe we could set aside a minute during the coming week at each evening meal to have each family member give thanks to God for some special thing that happened that day. This may not fit our own family situation. But what we do isn’t important. What is important is that we do something that will allow us to share with our children our own gratitude to God for his gifts to us. Let’s close with a very brief prayer to God by the poet George Herbert: “O God, you have given us so much. Give us one thing more—a grateful heart.’’ (slightly paraphrased)
28th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 5:14–17; 2 Timothy 2:8–13; Luke 17:11–19 Ungrateful yachtsman We owe God so much; the least we can do is to give thanks. Some years ago a magazine carried an article about a man who was fishing, one night, out in a bay in a small rowboat. It was late, and everything was quiet except for a man on the deck of a yacht anchored in the bay. The man had been drinking and, occasionally, bellowed out some incoherent sentence, disturbing the stillness of the night. The fisherman ignored him and concentrated on his fishing. Suddenly the fisherman heard a loud splash. He turned and, in the moonlight, saw that the man on the yacht had toppled into the water. Stripping off his jacket, the fisherman dove into the water and swam over to the man. After incredible effort, he managed to get the man back on his yacht. It was then that the fisherman saw that the man was barely breathing. Frantically, he gave the man artificial respiration and got him breathing normally again. When the man seemed to be all right, the fisherman put him to bed on the yacht and swam back to his tiny rowboat. The next morning the fisherman returned to the yacht to see if the man needed any help. The man was brusque and abusive. At this point, the fisherman reminded him that he had risked his life the night before to pull him from the water and save him. Instead of thanking the fisherman, the man shouted at him and ordered him off his yacht. As the fisherman rowed away in his tiny boat, his eyes filled up with tears. He could not believe what had just happened. Looking up to heaven, he prayed in words like these: “Lord, now I know how you must feel. You gave your life to save us. But, like the man on that yacht, instead of thanking you, we treated you like an enemy and ordered you to leave us alone. Now I know how you must feel, Lord! Now I know! And it breaks my heart!’’ After thinking about that story for a while, two passages from Scripture come to mind. The first is a well-known passage from the prophet Isaiah. It is often applied to Jesus to describe how the world has responded to his suffering and death. Isaiah writes: We despised him and rejected him . . . [and] ignored him as if he were nothing. But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. Isaiah 53:3–4 The second Scripture passage that comes to mind is today’s gospel, where Jesus heals ten lepers but only one—a non-Jew—returns to thank him. And it is this passage, perhaps, that most of us can relate to best. Just as Jesus did so much for the ten lepers, so he has done so much for us and our world. And our response, for the most part, is a lot like the response of the ten lepers. Only one out of ten of us takes the time to give thanks to Jesus. And here, it is only fair to say that the reason we don’t take time to thank Jesus is not because we are vile, or mean, or defensive, like the man on the yacht. Rather, it is simply because we get so involved in our everyday lives that we forget all about Jesus and how much he does for us every day. And this brings us to an important point. How does all this apply in a practical way to our lives? What message do the stories of the ungrateful man on the yacht and the ungrateful lepers in the gospel hold for us? At the very least, they invite us to take inventory of our lives to see if we may be treating people around us the way the man on the yacht treated the fisherman. At the very least, these two stories invite us to ask ourselves if we might be treating Jesus with the same ingratitude that the lepers expressed. At the very least, these two stories make us realize that gratitude toward God— and all God has given to us— should not be shut up and confined to one day a year. Rather, it should extend to every day of the year. At the very least, these two stories invite us to pray this prayer: “O Thou who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one thing more— a grateful heart.’’ George Herbert Let’s close with this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “Give thanks to the LORD! . . . Tell all the nations what he has done. Tell them how great he is! Sing to the LORD because of the great things he has done. Isaiah 12:4–5 In that spirit, let’s now return to the Table of the Lord to celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord.
28th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 5:14–17, 2 Timothy 2:8–13, Luke 17:11–19 Gratitude Gratitude must be heartfelt and expressed in a heartfelt way. Jesus said: “Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God? Luke 17:19 Dorothy Day was an adult convert to Catholicism. Her life story was the subject of a Hollywood movie. When she died at the age of 84, the New York Times did not hesitate to call her the most influential person in the history of American Catholicism. Since her death, there has been a movement to canonize her, especially for her work among New York’s poor and destitute. Some time ago, America magazine interviewed Eileen Egan, who was a close friend of Dorothy. One of the questions the interviewer asked Eileen was, “What is one thing, especially, that stands out in your mind about Dorothy?” Without hesitation, Eileen replied, “Her spirit of gratitude.” Eileen went on to give an example. One cold day the two of them were on a ferry boat. Dorothy was wearing only a thin coat. Fortunately, she had a newspaper. So she wrapped it around her body, under her coat. As she did, she smiled and said, “I thank the homeless for teaching me this way of keeping warm.” “Wherever Dorothy was,” Eileen added, “she found something to be thankful for. For example, Dorothy once said, ‘I’m so grateful Jesus lived on earth that sometimes I feel like kneeling down and kissing the ground, simply because his feet touched it.’ ” On the stone marker over Dorothy’s grave on Staten Island, two words appear next to her name: Deo Gratias, that is, “Thanks Be to God.” Dorothy requested them herself. The story of Dorothy Day introduces us to the story of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel. Dorothy’s story makes a fitting introduction to it, because her story underscores the two most important points about gratitude. First, it must be heartfelt. Second, it should be expressed in a heartfelt way. Dorothy’s gratitude to the homeless for teaching her how to keep warm and her gratitude to Jesus for coming down to live on earth are both heartfelt and expressed in a heartfelt way. In today’s Gospel the gratitude of the nine lepers who failed to return may have been heartfelt.We don’t know. But we do know that only one returned to express his gratitude in a heartfelt way. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus. Aclass of high school students was preparing to discuss today’s Gospel. As a starting point for the discussion, the teacher asked them to take a sheet of paper and answer these two questions: First, How long has it been since you thanked one or both of your parents for something? Second,What did you thank them for? I’d like to share with you two responses from two of the students. The first response reads: The last time I remember thanking one of my parents was about a week ago. I thanked my mother for helping me with some research work for school. I know that she spent hours on it. A week after I had turned in my paper, she brought home some more material on the subject, saying, “This is just for your own information on the subject.” The response of a second student reads as follows: The last time I can recall thanking one of my parents was a few weeks ago. I was going out on a Saturday night and was leaving my father at home alone, because my mother died last summer. Just before leaving, I stopped and put my hand on his shoulder in a loving way. I didn’t say anything, but I knew he understood that I was thanking him for letting me go out. Idon’t know about you, but I found those two responses deeply moving. In both cases their gratitude was obviously heartfelt. And in both cases it was expressed in a warm, heartfelt way. That brings us to this celebration of the liturgy. The stories of Dorothy Day, the students, and the ten lepers invite us to inventory our own gratitude and how we express it. For example, there’s a significant detail in today’s Gospel story that deserves our special attention. It is Jesus’ comment that the leper who returned was a Samaritan. By this detail, Jesus implies that the other nine were Jews. They were family, so to speak. You would expect them to show gratitude toward one another, but they didn’t. So often this is also true of us. When it comes to gratitude, we often take our families for granted. And, unfortunately, we often do the same when it comes to God. Someone said that taking gratitude for granted— or not expressing it— is like winking at someone in the dark. You know that you winked at them, but they don’t know it. And so, as we return to the altar, we might take time during the collection to thank God for sending his Son to walk among us. And we might show our gratitude by consciously trying to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which now follows, in a heartfelt way. Some years ago, a priest was giving a retreat to students at St. Edward’s College in Texas. Toward the end of the retreat a girl came in with a poem she had written to express her gratitude to God for so many things. Let me read it: What can I say as I walk my way, Finding a smile and love each day? What can I say as I live each day, Wanting to share myself with you? . . . What can I say to you, my God, But that I love you from the heart? What can I say to you, my God? All I can think is, “Thank you, God!” You have taught me how to live and pray. You always care and won’t lead me astray. What can I say to you, my God? All I can think is, “Thank you, God!” Lourdes Ruiz Arthur