Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. I have been to America on a few occasions. It is always interesting to experience a new culture and to compare its strengths to our own. One of the features of American culture that stood out for me was the importance of common courtesies like ‘Please’; ‘May I’; ‘You are welcome’; and of course ‘Thank you’. It is everywhere – in shops, supermarkets, airports and restaurants. I could not help but think how the place of these common courtesies or simple manners have declined in Ireland in recent decades. Here I comment on one, which is the heart of today’s Gospel about the ten lepers – the importance of saying ‘Thank You’.
Saying thank you to someone is a recognition of their service, time, work and dignity. It makes for good relations and good will. It opens up a space for friendship between people where one cherishes the good of the other. Being grateful to others and to God is a choice that we make as we recognise what we have and be grateful for who we are. In this sense, gratitude always flows from counting our blessings – being grateful for what we have rather than lamenting what we haven’t got.
It is also linked to healing as we see in the Gospel account of the leper who was healed. Gratitude flows from healing but also healing flows from gratitude. Notice how the man who came back to give thanks was already healed and yet Jesus said to him ‘Your faith has saved you’. Giving thanks saved him and saves us too. In the Eucharistic prayer we pray that: ‘It is our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise’. Therefore, giving thanks is not just a duty to others or to God. It is our salvation too.
When we realise these benefits of gratitude we appreciate that it is the foundation of a culture and a civilization. The opposite is also true. When we neglect to give thanks we slip into two bad attitudes. The first is one of entitlement – thinking the world owes us. The other is taking people and things for granted. The more this happens, the more society will decay.
Finally, the Gospel is ultimately about giving thanks to God. Note how Jesus observed how ‘no one has come back to give praise to God except this foreigner’. He did not say ‘no one has come back to give praise to ME’. From the very beginning of the Church, the first Christians met every week to celebrate what they called ‘Eucharist’ – a name which comes from the Greek word ‘to Give Thanks’. At every Mass we too join like them to give thanks to God and obey the instruction of St Paul to the early Christians: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of Godin Christ Jesus for you’ (1Th. 5:18); ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer being watchful in it with thanksgiving’ (Col. 4:2).
In conclusion, I offer here a prayer we might offer in thanksgiving:
‘Thank you Lord for my life and the abilities you have given me. Thank you for this day and the ability to read this. Thank you for your love and for your kindness. Thank you for your cross and for all you suffered for our sake. Thank you for your resurrection and for the hope that is born from it. Thank you for your healing of the lepers and for healing me. Thank you for your beauty. Thank you for your goodness. Thank you for your truth and the gift of your peace. Thank you Lord, thank you! Amen’.