October 13, 2019 Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily

Gratitude is like a rare flower found in a wintry landscape. Our human nature tends to take for granted favors and gifts, especially those that come from God.
           An Israelite slave girl belonging to Naaman, a Syrian official who had contracted leprosy, told her master about the prophet of God in Israel. He went down to Israel with lavish gifts to offer for a cure for his leprosy. Having first despised the simple action of washing seven times in the river Jordan, he was convinced by his servants to try it, since he had nothing to lose. He was rewarded with health; his skin becoming soft and clean like a child. Full of joy and boundless gratitude, Naaman sought to bestow upon Elisha, God’s prophet, the treasures that he had brought with him. Elisha refuses payment. Naaman then responds with a resolution worthy of his gratitude – to worship and offer sacrifice only to the true God who saved him.
In the Gospel, Jesus is traveling between Galilee and Jerusalem. To do so, he travels through Samaria, where the religion had long ago gone astray from the worship of the one, true God. A group of ten lepers, some of them Jews and at least one a Samaritan, approach him. They have no doubt heard of his qualities as a healer and, calling him by name, ask him to heal them. As they go their way, they find themselves cleansed of their leprosy. Only one of the ten returns to thank Jesus and he was a Samaritan, one who was not familiar with the worship of the true God. Because of his newly awakened faith in Jesus, the Lord tells him that he has been saved.
St. Paul is another example of a man who was on the wrong path in life, persecuting Christians, but who received the infinite gift of faith because of the Lord’s mercy. He is never remiss in giving thanks for his conversion, his faith and experience of God’s love and the promise of eternal life in Christ. In his Second Letter to Timothy, he reveals just how much his heart overflows with recognition and gratitude. He is willing to suffer imprisonment and even death for the Lord. He offers all that he undergoes for those who God wants to save through Christ, that they too might receive the gifts for which he is so grateful. All this three stories show us that God is compassionate and generous in  his gift giving but we can not just stay satisfied that we were cured when we ask, but also appreciate the gift and thank to the giver with praise and worship. Health of the body is not everything we can have from God! He came to give us health of our soul and salvation. Nine of the lepers were focused on physical health and they got it but neglected the importunity to receive even more, the gift more precious than health of the body, a life long relationship with the giver and as a result an eternal salvation.
          Naaman and the Samaritan leper are strangers to God, whose gratitude for their cure comes largely from the fact that they have discovered God. For the Jewish lepers God was not a new discovery but it seems like they took their God for granted, when something or someone becomes familiar to us, we downplay the benefits that come to us.
Unfortunately, this also happens with God. Our life is filled with a multitude of unmerited blessings – health, food, family and friends, our faith, even our very lives. God’s providence and goodness in the form of these ever-present gifts leads to familiarity and expectation – “I have earned them,” “I deserve them.” It seems natural to us that God responds to our prayer. So we forget to say a sincere “Thank you” or to offer the homage of our hearts in worship, praise and adoration. The result is that we take God for granted.

Many times in my priestly ministry I come to the situations that seem to be similar to the stories from today’s readings and especially the Gospel. Parents ask for a baptism of their child or children but don’t have an intention to raise their children in faith at all. They wrongly think that the sacrament of baptism magically will give their children salvation, without them working with God and the gift of grace given to their children in this beautiful sacrament. They don’t understand that the sacrament of baptism is not the end, the magical touch, that guarantee salvation, it is a beginning of a life long relationship with God and that parents are responsible to try to develop this life long relationship. They are undertaking a serious responsibility on themselves they will be accounted for.

The other sacrament that comes to mind is the Anointing of the sick or the so called ”last rights”. Times and times again a sick or dying person in the hospital all of the sadden will remember that 70-80 years ago he or she was baptized in the Catholic faith and will call for Anointing of the sick thinking, that because of the magical touch of the priest without any other sacraments received previously in their whole life or any practice of the faith, now magically they will receive Salvation.

Before I go to the hospital I usually check if there is any record of membership in our parish or parishes in the valley especially if the person lives in Kalispell. Once a while I discover that the family lives in our area but there is no record of Catholicism in any parish. And I go to the hospital and start some prayers including the Lord’s prayer. Once a while I’m surprised that I have to say it by myself even if the whole family is present, because none of the family members even know the prayer or understand what I’m doing and saying! I think to myself: They think I am a magician! The magician came, he said some strange words, performed some strange rituals and made everything right! This magical ritual will take our family member mother or father straight way to heaven.” sounds great! Doesn’t it? It doesn’t work that way! Of course God is free to do what he wants and he does without our permission. But on regular basis in regular circumstances he wants our cooperation, our thanksgiving and appreciation which we express by practicing what we believe.

In today’s gospel though he healed ten lepers only one in consequence was the beneficiary of the miracle and received salvation, the others were just happy with a physical healing, not even concerned about their salvation or gratitude or any relationship with God. A miraculous healing brought them physical health but not automatically salvation.

The secret to perceiving the Giver and his gift anew is to awaken our sense of wonder, to reflect upon what God has done and is doing in our lives.
St. Paul teaches us that gratitude to God is more than just a sentiment. It is an attitude that leads us to action. Gratitude implies that we value what we have received, especially the most priceless of gifts: our life of grace and friendship with God, the gifts of faith, hope and love, the sacraments and our salvation. Gratitude means that we love and use them that we guard and conserve them in all their purity and health.We need to fight against immaturity in our relationship with God and his gifts.
Developing gratitude goes hand in hand with the virtue of humility because it requires that we recognize our neediness and unworthiness. But gratitude should also deepen our love for God. God gives us this multitude of gifts as means to find him, to raise us up again, to restore in us our fallen image, to give us our inheritance as sons and daughters. What he desires is our happiness; what he hungers for is our love. We show gratitude not out of fear or calculation, but out of love, because we have discovered Him who has loved us first.
Gratitude to God based on love becomes a motive for us to please him, to desire to become more like him who loves us. Christ called his disciples to “be holy as your heavenly father is holy,” to “love one another as I have loved you.” The saints perceived the priceless gifts of God, they were filled with gratitude and love and thus they strove to imitate Christ.

Finally, St. Paul shows us that a deep and profound gratitude for the gifts of God should lead us to share our faith and knowledge of God with those who don’t know him or have not experienced his love. An apostolic heart is the natural flowering of the virtue of gratitude.
Let us commit ourselves this week to practicing this “rarest of virtues,” asking the Lord to give us opportunities to practice it in all its dimensions and through it, grow in our love for God and those around us.