28TH SUNDAY: THANKSGIVING, AN ACT OF FAITH
This year’s (2022) Thanksgiving is on November 24th and it is usually a huge event in the US. But the question can be asked, What are you thankful for? Today’s readings challenge us in a strong way as we listen to the stories of different lepers. The first is Naaman’s grateful heart and gesture after being healed through the prophet Elisha. Then in the gospel, the Samaritan leper comes back to Jesus to say thank you after being healed. He is the only man among other nine lepers who returns, prompting Jesus to ask, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” And he said to the man, “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.” What a lesson!
I listened to one of the best homilies on Gratitude and Thanksgiving given by Fr. Michael Sparough, S.J. Fr. Sparough captions that homily, “Help, Thanks, Wow.” I think that's a good progression towards being healed, "Help, Thanks, Wow!" A salient point in the passage is that this man is a foreigner, a Samaritan. The other nine are possibly Jews and take their healing for granted. They walk away. The difference between the Samaritan and the other nine is that they all begin with shouting for "Help" from Jesus. The others stop at that level after they get cleansed. But the Samaritan moves upward to the level of thanks, and is wowed by the saving grace from Christ. Fr. Sparough challenged the mentality of walking away which can be identified among American citizens. It is called the sense of entitlement.
You get sunk into a habit that says to yourself, “I deserved this. I earned this.” The point is that God deserves your gratitude not because it changes God but because it changes you from the inside. It is possible that immigrants and foreigners see more reasons to thank God than typical Americans, mostly because we come from backgrounds that lacked most of the opportunities and resources seen in America. For example, in America, good roads, water, electricity, and other resources are available as they should. Good hospitals and medical systems, good insurance, retirement packages, food, and work are readily available. Hence, they can be taken for granted. We are born without physical or mental disabilities. But is it possible that you would have been born in Haiti, or Afghanistan, or Nigeria, or Korea, any other place? What would you have done if that happened? Or if you were born with some form of physical or mental challenge? God made you to be born in the US. He makes life easy and simple for you. Maybe start each day with Psalm 139:14, “I will praise You, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Samaritan leper recognizes how God has healed him and returns to give thanks. This gives him an advantage over others. Jesus grants him inner healing, “Your faith has saved you.” In that gospel, the other nine are physically cured but not internally healed. They are blinded by the immediate which makes their healing incomplete. Why did they not return? Because they see only the limited external. They focus on getting the legal Jewish pass to become integrated back into the society. Is it possible that our expectations prevent us from seeing reasons to be thankful?
Thanksgiving is an act of faith that flows from inner healing. A thankful heart is internally hopeful for the future. The soul recognizes God’s gratuitousness and goodness. So it becomes an attitude. Once you become aware that there is always something to be thankful for, that is the moment you are healed. Otherwise, you can become resentful.
Here's how Fr. Michael captures it: “Help. Thanks. Wow. When we lift up our voices in thanks, we fulfill the purpose for which God has created us. It adds nothing to God’s greatness, but it changes us. St. Augustine said long ago, “Our hearts are restless and they will not rest until they rest in You, O Lord.” Resentment is a poison that eats its own container. Worry is like a rocking chair. We can sit in it all day and we go nowhere. Thanksgiving frees us from resentment and worry.”
The truth is that life is lived not only for what we have but for who we are, creatures in God’s image and likeness. You might be thinking of the things you do not have in a way that you overlook the constant blessings and gifts of God in your life each day.
When we think about poverty, we can make our minds poor by our attitude of worry and resentment. We can see only lack and get easily dissatisfied. Think about the Blessed Eucharist for a moment. What is our attitude towards the Mass? Are we fully engaged or merely checking the box? Are we focused on the time we spend or are we fully grateful for the privilege of sharing in the precious Body and Blood of Christ? Isn't that huge? The Mass is a sacrifice of Thanksgiving.
In my culture, we dance to the altar. We express joy and gratitude. There you will see people organizing friends and families to accompany them to the altar for several reasons. If you buy a new car, you go to the church and dance in thanksgiving to God. If you have a new baby, you go to the church to thank God. If you get a new job, a raise at work or promotion, recover from sickness, etc, you go to the church and dance to God. You thank Him literally for everything. And most of these churches do not have air-condition or fans. Most of the churches are not as comfortable, yet the people learn to be grateful to God.
Vinny Flynn writes in his book, 21 Ways to Worship, “Everything at Mass, for example, when I hear the priest say, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” I respond with the congregation, “It is right and just.” But then I immediately pray silently, “Yes, Lord, it is right and just to give You thanks and praise, so I thank You and praise You right now” (p. 28). Will you begin to see the Mass as your great moment of thanksgiving?
The Samaritan leper teaches us to begin to give thanks to God. Research has also shown that gratitude has psychological effects. Thanksgiving increases self-esteem. It increases positive energy. Thanksgiving helps to improve the quality of sleep. Thanksgiving heals high blood pressure. It is an antidote to stress. Thanksgiving reduces the chances of depression. Thanksgiving enhances the quality of relationships. When we give thanks, we become better persons.
You might ask, how you could get better at being thankful to God. How about journaling your gratitude each day? Try to keep it real. Vinny Flynn gives us some recommendations this way, “Thank Him! Open your journal, and with your mind focused on the reality that Jesus is right here with you, in person, write, “Thank You, Jesus, for …” or “Thank You, Jesus, that …” Finish the statement by listing at least five things, events, people, situations, or whatever, that you are grateful for” (p.35). If you do that every day you might be acting like the Samaritan leper, healed and saved from the inside. Then you’re able to see what ordinarily you would not be able to see. Each moment of your life is great because God makes you start and end it with gratitude. As Fr. Michael says, you can exclaim, “Help, Thanks, Wow!”
Readings: 1st- 2 Kgs. 5:14-17; 2nd- 2 Tim. 2:8-13; Gospel- Lk. 17:11-19