Dear friends. During the summer I spent two weeks in America. One of the fine qualities I came to notice and admire in the culture and in most of the people I met was the importance of common courtesies. In restaurants, bars and shops, words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘may I’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘have a nice day’ were part of everyday conversation everywhere you went. It is no exaggeration to say that whole civilizations are held together by courtesy because without courtesy there is no respect, without respect there is conflict and where there is conflict, there is division and hatred.
Today’s Gospel concerns one of the most important courtesies of all, namely that of gratitude. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus meets ten lepers who beg him to cure them which he does. Out of the ten, only one came back to say thanks. Why did he do that and what can we say about him because he did? The first thing we can say is that he was a man of good manners, of courtesy. Even if he had no faith in Jesus, he is credited for being a man who acknowledged a good that was done to him by another. He is grateful and thankful. For some reason, the other nine did not acknowledge the good done to them. Perhaps they felt that being cured was owed to them and that being well was what they were entitled to in the first place. Here lies the constant danger for us too – of taking people for granted, feeling that the world owes us and living with a constant sense of entitlement. This suffocates the soul and angers the spirit when we feel we do not receive what we are owed or that life has cheated us.
But Jesus came to show us another way, the way of gratitude that lifts the spirit to see goodness in everyone and all as gift with blessings hidden in the daily events of life. When Jesus says to the leper who had been cured ‘stand up and go on your way, your faith has saved you’, he is not referring only to his miraculous cure from leprosy. He is saved also because he is grateful. In the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, we say that it is ‘our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise’. Giving thanks is our duty but also our salvation. It is what grateful people do and life is better because of it. It is better for the person who gives thanks and for the people who are thanked. The good is acknowledged and when it is, it flows even more abundantly.
The Gospel is also about recognising the goodness of God that Jesus shows us. Older generations used words like ‘thank God’ or ‘please God’ more often than we do today. It expressed their faith that God is good, is Lord of all and reminded them not to take God’s gifts for granted. Even at times of great loss, people of faith look to what was given and give thanks instead of curing the loss and becoming sore. I think of Micky Harte’s talk at the Faith Festival at the Cathedral in 2013 when he spoke about wishing he had his daughter Michaela for longer but for being so grateful to God for the years when he had her. I think also of the experience of Lourdes with the sick where any feelings of self-pity or entitlement melt away before the joy of being close to these very special people. In their midst you are reminded of the truth that God has two homes – in heaven and the other in a humble and grateful heart.
I conclude with a simple prayer of gratitude: ‘Loving Father, I want to take a minute not to ask for anything from you but to simply say thank you for all that I have and all that I am. Thank you Jesus, my love, thank you’.