28TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
In our gospel today we have the story of ten lepers who approach Jesus asking for his mercy. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. As these ten lepers began their journey to the temple, the marks of leprosy were still on their bodies, but at some point, as they walked their decaying flesh became healthy. I am sure that when they noticed they were healed, they laughed and shouted and hugged each other. But as they continued their walk to the temple other concerns may have taken over. What kind of reception will they get when they show up at temple? How will they explain this miracle? Will their family be prepared to take them back? What about work, what will they do for a living now? Their worries overwhelmed their gratitude for the gift they were given.
That’s the funny thing about receiving a miraculous gift. The joy it brings is often very short lived. You start worrying about what others think. You are constantly trying to explain what happened. You forget the joy the gift brings as you return to your normal way of life. Those nine ungrateful lepers may have been so caught up in the consequences of being cured, so intent on proving their worthiness to reenter society, that they forgot to thank the person who was responsible for the gift of being healed.
Those nine ungrateful lepers called to mind a line in an article I read in Time magazine; “Never have so many had it so good and felt so badly about it.” Those nine lepers had just received the great gift of healing, but the stress and worries of everyday life quickly got in the way. They may have focused too much on the years they had lost and the things that were denied them. They may have been in too much of a hurry to return to a normal way of life and did not take the time to appreciate the gift they were given, or to thank the one who gave it.
We tend to act the same way. Its Thanksgiving weekend, a time when we should stop and give thanks for what we have received, but the feeling of gratitude that should accompany our thanks may not be there. Thanksgiving day may find us suffering from stress, depression, loneliness or anger. Like the nine lepers we can lose sight of our blessings because we are focused too much on our woes. We need to find a way to give gratitude to God even if we don’t think we have anything to be thankful for.
Learning to do that involves spiritual discipline, a practice that’s fallen from favour in our society today. Our parents were well acquainted with this kind of discipline. They lived by doing what they believed was right and necessary, even if they didn’t feel like doing it. Today, however, we live by our feelings. It doesn’t matter if something is wrong or right, or that it needs to be done, or that it ought be done, our first question is always: “Do I feel like doing it?” We may have great physical discipline, but emotionally and spiritually, we often act impulsively. Even when we know a course of action is wrong, we do it anyway. If we don’t feel like doing something we just don’t do it.
We have become so “self” centred, so sure that only we have the power to make ourselves happy, healthy and whole, that we lose sight of the gifts that come from outside of ourselves, from the help of others, from the mercy of God. We allow our moods, our whims, and our feelings to guide our choices, and all too often those feelings excuse us from doing what is right.
The only way out of this sorry state of affairs is through discipline. Instead of investing all your energy in yourself, your needs, trying to make those good things you have been given serve your needs and your wants, do something positive for someone else. Instead of complaining about what you don’t have and how that holds you back, be thankful for what you have been given and what it allows you to do.
At first personal discipline can be hard, but slowly, as you practice it, something marvellous happens. Your problems are not as big as you thought they were, you begin to feel connected to others, you become more aware of the presence of God working in our life. Suddenly you find yourself healed of the many things that held you back, that stopped you from living fully. When discipline and faith are combined, we can be thankful and joyful, even when we life is not as perfect as we feel it should be.
Another thing that can help us give thanks when we’re not in the mood; is worship. We may come to church grumpy, depressed, and feeling like it’s a gigantic waste of time, but Jesus said, “When two or three of you are gathered in my name I am there with you,” so we discipline ourselves and come to fulfill our Sunday obligation.
Once here you may find the opening hymn familiar and comforting, the choir uplifting; the prayers of the congregation drawing you in. You may even feel as though the homily is speaking directly to you. Suddenly you are glad to be here! This, dear people, is the greatest gift of Christ’s church. It’s called community, and when we gather together, the sharing of our trials and our triumphs can draw us closer and lift our spirits and implant within us a deep sense of gratitude.
On this Thanksgiving day, faith challenges us to discipline, and calls us into community. But to take up that challenge there one thing we need to do. We must stop take a good look at our lives and look past what we feel is missing and acknowledge the good things we have been given. Let me share with you my own inventory of the past years woes and blessings.
I watched helplessly, as my older sister lost her battle with cancer. I continue to watch, the growing fragility of my elderly mother who has always been my greatest source of strength and support. Two of my closest friends have moved away, and I felt lost and abandoned. I have a ministry that has changed radically and at times I feel I am not really making any difference. I feel that no matter what I do, its never enough. I feel I am wasting my time, my resources, and my energy.
To stop these feelings from taking over, I then sat down and looked at what Christ has given me and I began to see many reasons to be grateful! I am blessed to still have my mother with me and good friends who support me. I am privileged to live and work with some creative, and amazingly faithful priests. The reopening of this Cathedral and celebrating once again at this altar with all of you is a great achievement and an even greater blessing.
I am humbled with joyful gratitude every time I am invited into people’s lives, to celebrate their baptisms, marriages, and funerals; to help others grow in faith and join themselves to Christ and to the church; to see those who are angry and bitter find release in forgiveness. I am grateful for this priesthood and how it has allowed me to grow ever more committed and connected to Jesus. That’s just a small part of my personal inventory. And as I was in the midst of it, I began to be ashamed of myself for allowing my selfish feelings of regret and resentment to block what the Lord has given me.
Does this Thanksgiving weekend find you expressing only regrets and remorse? Do you feel there is precious little to be thankful for in your life? Then I urge you, exercise a little discipline, enter into worship with this believing community and make a conscious effort to give thanks to Jesus for what he has done for you. An ungrateful heart sees very few blessings, but a grateful heart will find every day a gift from God.