LEARNING FROM THE ONE
Gratitude is the response to being gifted. A great deal of what we really value in life is gift, coming to us from beyond ourselves, whether it is a beautiful sunset or wonderful music or, indeed, the relationships that are significant for us, the people that really matter to us. Yes, keeping a significant relationship alive once it has begun can be hard work, but the origin of the relationship is often more in the nature of gift. Because so much in life is gift, there is great scope for gratitude. A lack of gratitude in our lives can indicate our failure to appreciate just how much of what we really value has been received rather than worked for.
As people of faith, we recognize that all the gifts of life have their ultimate origin in God, the great giver. St. James in his letter puts it well when he says: ‘Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’. As believers, when we recognize that we have been graced by someone, our gratitude to that person becomes gratitude to God, whom we recognize as the ultimate source of every gift. That is what distinguished the Samaritan leper from the other nine in the gospel reading. All had been greatly gifted by Jesus. The illness that kept them isolated from all except other lepers had been taken away. Only one of them recognized that the ultimate source of that wonderful blessing was God. The gospel reading tells us that, finding himself cured, the Samaritan turned back praising God at the top of his voice. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus, thanking him, because he recognized that God had worked through Jesus to cure him. The real object of the leper’s thanks and praise was not so much Jesus, but God present in Jesus. This is why when he returned to Jesus. Jesus did not say, ‘No one has come back to thank me except this foreigner’, but, rather, ‘No one has come back to praise God except this foreigner’. What distinguished this leper from the other nine was that he recognized his healing as a gift from God. This is the vision of faith, which is why Jesus said to him, ‘Your faith has saved you’.
We are called to grow into that same vision of faith. It is good to take time to name the ways we have been graced, to recognize God as the source of all these gifts, and to lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to God. Saint Theresa of Avila wrote, ‘the memory of a favour received can bring us more readily to God than many sermons on hell’. It can sometimes take a brush with darkness and suffering to make us appreciate just how blessed we are, just how much we have been given. Elie Wiesel was a survivor of Hitler’s Holocaust. He survived the camps but saw his whole family die by the hands of the Nazis. He experienced as a mere child what he called, ‘the kingdom of night’. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo in 1986 he said, ‘no one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night’. The darker experiences of life can often sharpen our gratitude to God for what we have been given. Even when we are in the midst of the kingdom of night, the Lord continues to pour out his blessings upon us. In the words of today’s second reading, ‘he is always faithful’.
We appreciate grateful people very much. Do we ourselves not forget to thank? For many, it is the Lord who is forgotten. Look at everything we owe God: our life, our bodies with our eyes to see the marvels of creation and our ears to hear creation’s songs. There is all the beauty around us and all the good people to appreciate and love. Above all, God himself has come near to us in Jesus. He brought us repeated forgiveness and the capacity to forgive and to love. Let us thank God and praise him at the top of our voices.
Fr. Charles Chidiebere Mmaduekwe