10 lepers call out to Jesus to be healed, and after Jesus heals them only one returns to give thanks. Fr. Michael reminds us to be thankful but that our thanksgiving adds nothing to God’s greatness but it does change us for the better. Watch this special Thanksgiving homily for it’s add illustrations and video of Pope John Paul II.
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
Gratitude and Thanksgiving
Help. Thanks. Wow.
Help. Thanks. Wow.
Three words in Anne Lamott’s poem, Prayer.
I want to focus today on that middle word as we move into a season of thanksgiving; the word, “Thanks.” When we thank God, we magnify God’s glory and we stand back and we see his power at work in our life and the response is, “Wow.”
Today’s Gospel the story of these ten lepers highlights not—by accident in St. Luke’s account—that the one who returns to say, “Thanks” is a Samaritan. It’s Luke’s gospel that also tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus calls him a foreigner. Outside of his own territory and immigrant if you will.
Isn’t that often the case that immigrants don’t take for granted—like we who are native born to this country—the blessings that are given us that we just take for granted or that we feel entitled to.
Now the hero of today’s Gospel, the one who points the way to thanksgiving, is this outsider, this foreigner, this Samaritan who returns to say, “Thank you.”
Help. Thanks. Wow. He stands in awe of God’s grace at work in his life.
Ed Ochylski is a wealthy former meat packer. He’s now in his 90s. He’s retired down in Florida, but he comes to Bellarmine annually for a retreat and when he was at Bellarmine just last month he told me this story and I asked if I could have permission to retell it and he said, “by all means.”
Ed is a very wealthy man and he’s given away large sums of money. And he said, “You know, there are a lot of people that I gave money to that didn’t even write back to say, ‘thank you.’ They didn’t acknowledge in any way the gift that I had given them.” And he said, “For years, I used to be resentful of that. Here I am doing this good deed, I’m trying to help them out, I’m sharing from the gifts that I have, and they don’t even bother to say, ‘Thank you.'” Ed resented that.
He was praying to the Lord about that, and then the Lord knocked on his thick polish head and said, “How about you Ed? Have you been saying ‘thanks’ to me for all that I’ve given you?”
That stopped him cold because he realized he had looked at himself as pulling himself up by his bootstraps by accomplishing everything that he had accomplished through his hard work he wasn’t thanking God for the gifts that God had given him. Once that realization dawned, he was able to let go of his resentment and he never expected anything from anyone. He continues to give generously, but he doesn’t expect anything in return. He’s grateful for the opportunity to be able to help others.
What an amazing story that I think we can all learn from because I think we all—especially those of us who been born into in any privilege, or any of us who have accomplished anything in life—we tend to fall into that spirit of entitlement. I deserve this. I earned this.
The reality is we don’t deserve anything except punishment for our sins. Everything that we have is gift. If you think I’m exaggerating, just do a little mind experiment with me and imagine that if you were born in Syria right now how different your life would be?
Or imagine if you were in that Caravan passing through Mexico right now because you were fleeing violence from the gangs that have ripped apart your country or to your town.
Or imagine that you were born without hands or arms.
Or imagine that you didn’t have the mind that you were given.
Imagine that your mother was addicted to cocaine when you were a kid or your dad was a drug dealer.
We didn’t have any choice over the circumstances into which we were born and the gifts that God has chosen to give us. Like Ed Ochylski, we need to continue to say, “Thanks” to God for the gifts that are given and not expect anything in return when we give those gifts away.
Way back in September of 1987. I was working with a theater group in Cincinnati called The Fountain Square Fools and we were invited to what was called a “Papal Space Bridge” in St. Louis. It was a technological marvel at the time—not so amazing today—but back in 1987—31 years ago—it was pretty amazing. Pope John Paul II was visiting Los Angeles and there was a youth conference there and there was a two-way television communication and there was another gathering in the Cathedral in St. Louis.
And there was another gathering of youth over in Europe and all three of these cities were connected by two-way television and the theater group that I was directing was invited to do some entertaining inspiration. And so we did that and the Pope was able to see that. I0t was very exciting. But the highlight was a young man by the name of Tony Melendez. He was born in Nicaragua 1962—immigrated legally to the United States—but his mother took Thalidomide, which the doctors at that point back in the 60s had said was kind of a cure-all. Well only later did they realize that it caused birth defects in their babies and Tony was born without any arms.
But far from feeling sorry for himself he had a gift for music. He was a talented singer and he learned to play the guitar with his toes.
And in this event back in September of 1987, Tony was invited to sing a song. He called it, “Never Be the Same.” He played the guitar with his toes and sang with his rich melodic voice for Pope John Paul. Pope John Paul (I’ll never forget this) was so moved—Tony was over on another stage, Pope John Paul was on the center stage—he got off the stage, he walked through the crowd, climbed up onto the stage, and embraced Tony. He came back to his stage and his microphone and he said, ‘This young man has just given a better sermon than I will ever give in my life.’ And then he turned to Tony and he said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’
As I said, that was 31 years ago and Tony has continued to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s now 56 years old. He’s married. I looked him up on Google. He’s got gray in his beard and in his hair. But he’s continued, and he has his own band. He calls it Toe Jam, appropriately enough, Toe Jam and he continues, and he’s won many many musical awards using his gift of a grateful heart.
Some reporters interviewed him and they said, ‘If you had the opportunity to be born differently, be born with hands and arms, would you want to be born with hands and arms?’ Tony said, ‘God has graced me so abundantly as I am, I wouldn’t want to change anything.’
Brothers and sisters, that’s a grateful heart.
Thanksgiving adds nothing to God’s greatness, but it changes us from the inside. It frees us from those two terrible Demons of worry and resentments.
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. This is part of the reason why St. Ignatius Loyola said if you don’t do any other kind of prayer in the course of the day, spend 15 minutes to review your day and begin in thanksgiving. What are you grateful for?
Thanksgiving puts our problems in perspective and there are tremendous health benefits. They’ve been studying those who significantly dedicate themselves to thanksgiving. It reduces depression. It increases self-esteem. It increases our energy, helps us get a better night’s sleep, reduces our blood pressure, reduces stress within our life.
Thanksgiving adds nothing to God’s greatness, but it changes us from the inside.
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.
I would encourage you to do the Examen of St. Ignatius to begin with gratitude and to journal some of your gratitude, write it down. Make it real with in your life. Gratitude is not dependent on the circumstances of our life. Gratitude is dependent on our attitude. There’s always something to be grateful for. And if we can’t find that then we’re missing the point.
Let me just end with one of my favorite poems by E E Cummings, that great iconoclastic poet. He died in 1962, but he wrote this poem the year I was born in 1950.
i thank you God for most this amazing
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)