The Grace of Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19
Ti 3:1-7 / Ps 23:1-6

Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?
(Luke 17:17)

The reason why the world’s in strife:
We don’t thank God the way we should;
The secret to a happy life
Is a heart full of gratitude.

As Jesus continued His journey to Jerusalem through Samaria and Galilee, ten lepers met Him in a certain village. Standing at a distance from Him, they called out, “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. Then one of them, realizing that he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice. He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “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.” (Luke 17:11-19)

Reflection

Only one healed of leprosy came back to thank Jesus. The other nine were probably so excited about being freed at last from that despicable disease, and being healthy and clean once more that they could hardly wait to tell the good news to their family and friends. In their joy and excitement they forgot to stop and thank the Source of their miraculous healing. Thus, their healing was incomplete. They were healed physically, but only one was healed both physically and spiritually (“Your faith has saved you.”). In their lack of gratitude, the other 9 may have lost the opportunity to gain the greater gift of eternal life.

This is essentially the message that today’s Gospel of Luke imparts. God’s generosity is multiplied in a grateful heart. Many people neglect to thank God once they have received what they are praying for. How would you feel if the person who received your favor never even took the trouble of thanking you? If we displease God with our ingratitude, don’t be surprised if our blessings are short-lived.

Gratitude is the best attitude. Only one out of ten people live to the ripe old age of 80 or more. This healthy 10% of our country’s population are most likely those who possess grateful hearts. Not many people are aware of the power of this grace called thankfulness. The reciprocal action of an appreciative heart can result in exponential returns. They have no problem getting to sleep, and sleeping soundly, they wake up bright and early and ready to face the day. Studies have shown that those who count their blessings feel good about themselves, and seem to be in a state of perpetual joy. They are less prone to contract illness than those who are always complaining, and they have less interpersonal and social problems.

From the moment they wake up, grateful people praise and thank the Lord for another day, and keep in mind the blessings of the Lord in their lives, even for the little things that most people take for granted. In fact, even for the pains and difficulties, problems and emotional hurts that they receive from others, they still thank the Lord for them, if only because they see them as opportunities to share the cross of Jesus that draw them closer to Him. These are the people who are truly blessed. Their wounds heal faster, their lives are happier, and they live longer. Let us learn how to be grateful in everything, for gratitude is the food of our soul, and the vitamin of our faith. Give praise to God, for this grace is a gift from Him.

I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall always be in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord that the poor may hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His Name together (Psa.34:2-4). Thank You, Father God, for healing us of the leprosy of ingratitude. Let our hearts be grateful for all Your blessings all the days of our lives, that we may never tire in serving You, and loving others. Amen.

St. Frances, the Faithful Servant

Luke 17: 7-10
Tim 2:1-8,11-14 / Psa 37

We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.
(Luke 17:10)

For the gift of life it’s only right
That we serve the Lord in all our ways,
Our hope in His Word our guiding light,
Divine reward by His loving grace.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17: 7-10)

Reflection

At first glance it would seem that our Lord Jesus aimed this parable at the Pharisees and the high priests, who were proud and feeling righteous in their rigid observance of Judaic laws and practices. However, when taken in the context of the preceding verses, this parable is actually a continuation of Jesus’ response to His apostles who asked Him to increase their faith (Lk.17:5). It is only by admitting our unworthiness, and humbly acknowledging God’s power over all our works can we grow in faith.

As St. Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph.2:8-10) It is important to keep this in mind, so that we do not fall into the same pit as the pharisees in Jesus’ time, who thought that their faithful tithing and observance of rituals were enough to gain salvation, if not divine merits. None of our works of mercy, religious devotions, or witnessing to others can be means of attaining grace; instead they are manifestations of the grace of God already at work in our lives.

Today the Church commemorates the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first canonized saint of the United States (1850-1917). Migrating from Italy, this frail nun traveled with six sisters to New York City to help thousands of Italian immigrants living there. From the very start of her mission she faced challenges that would have broken men of weaker faith. Even the New York archbishop advised her to return home when quarters for her first orphanage in the United States seemed unavailable. But the resiliency of her faith never made her waver in her mission. In 35 years she established 67 institutions that cared for the poor, the abandoned, and the sick. She also organized schools for uneducated immigrants in order to increase their faith. Her strong faith also gave her the courage to cross the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times despite her great fear of drowning. She died of malaria in her own hospital in Chicago. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini accomplished so much not because she was seeking to earn credits in heaven, but because she believed that she was merely an obedient servant, doing the works that her Master intended for her to do. She is truly an ideal model of the faithful servant in today’s Gospel.

Lord Jesus, sometimes, we feel that the more we serve You, the more You allow us to share in Your pains and labors while You were here on earth. We consider our ‘stripes’ a great privilege— for the greatest joy is the hope of spending eternal happiness with You in heaven after this short sojourn on earth. Amen.

The Purpose of Wealth

Luke 16:9-15
Phil 4:10-19 / Psa 112

You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
(Luke 16:15)

We can become poor in wisdom,
Or other things like power and health;
But if it keeps us from God’s kingdom,
The worst poverty of all is wealth.

(Jesus said to His disciples), “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with wealth tainted as it is, so that when it fails you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings. He who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and he who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If then you have not been trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? And if you have not been trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this, and they sneered at Him. And He said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:9-15)

Reflection

Like the dishonest steward who was summoned by his master to give an account of his master’s possessions, all of us will also be called one day before Divine Providence to give a report on the stewardship of the Lord’s resources. We will be asked if we made friends with the destitute and the disadvantaged with the wealth that God had entrusted to us. Or did we, like the rich man in the parable, ignore the Lazaruzes who begged for food at our gate?

Most people who have grown rich and powerful tend to forget that we came into this world with nothing. Everything belongs to God, and all the things in our possession and power are only put under our care for two primary purposes: to make this world a better place for others who are not as fortunate, and to help promote the kingdom of God by assisting His workers. Of course God also wants us to enjoy the fruits of our enterprise and to provide for the future of our loved ones. But God wants us to exercise prudence in the management of our resources, and not be ruled by avarice to accumulate wealth for its own sake. That is why Jesus warned us that, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Only one or the other can occupy our hearts, and Jesus teaches us here why man turns from God to mammon. It is greed, that excessive desire for perpetual security. And how blind the greedy are, as there is nothing perpetual in this world. It is not how much we acquire but how much we have given that makes us immortal. Generosity perpetuates our name; greed diminishes it. The poor that we have helped with our money will be our eternal friends who will speak well of us before the throne of God. But if, because of greed or selfishness, we were not generous with that tainted thing called ‘money’, how could we expect to be entrusted with the true riches of heaven?

Who then is the Master in charge of my life? Is it the love of material possessions? The pride and power of position and prestige? Is it the raging passion for women? Or addiction to food, alcohol or drugs? There is only one Master who can free us from our slavery to sin and material obsessions. That Master is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and giver of light, and we are the children of light.

Lord, let Your love burn brightly in our hearts so that we may never be distracted. Free us from greed and enslavement to all material things with your grace of generosity. Help us in times of economic difficulties to be more honest in our work, to be models of true service and integrity. For it is only by being good stewards that we can inherit Your kingdom. Amen.

Zeal for the Temple

John 2:13-22
Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12 / Psa 46

“Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” His disciples recalled the words of scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
(John 2:16-17)

May our church be a font of grace,
Where we honor Christ’s sacrifice;
Don’t treat it like a marketplace,
True worship doesn’t have a price.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple courts people selling oxen, sheep and doves, as well as the money changers seated at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove them all out of the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. And to those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” His disciples recalled the words of scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” At this the Jews then responded to Him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple He had spoken of was His body. After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said. Then they came to believe the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13-22)

Reflection

This is one of the few incidents in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ that is related in all the four Gospels. But while the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) placed this event near the end of Jesus’ life, John the evangelist, who was always in the Lord’s company, put the incident at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, just after His first miracle of changing water into wine at Cana (chapter 2). No biblical scholar can accurately explain this plainly ‘chronological discrepancy’, nor can anyone deny its historical validity. Suffice it to say that John was a mystic who was more concerned about the symbolic than the chronological in his Gospel.

In the wedding at Cana, Jesus “overturned” Jewish customs by transforming water used for washing the guests’ feet into excellent wine. St. John showed our Lord’s zeal for maintaining the purity of the Father’s temple by driving out those who would desecrate it, just as He had saved the wedding at Cana from the disgrace of running out of wine. It is also significant to note that the miracle at the wedding in Cana was the first sign that Jesus performed, and after He drove out the traders from the temple area, the Jews asked Him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” We know that the sign Jesus referred to was His resurrection from the dead. In the same way, the miraculous changing of water into wine was a sign of our physical cleansing from water to our spiritual purification in the wine (the Blood of Jesus) in the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus reacted the way He did (quite violently) in driving out the animals and the money changers from the temple area to show God’s contempt for those who show no respect for the sacred. Instead of being defiled by the marketplace, where greed and corruption hold sway, we must preserve the sanctity and purity of our place of worship by reacting in the strongest terms against the evil influences of the world. By doing so, we are also making our bodies pure and pleasing to God (Rom.12:1). St. Paul said, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1Cor 6:19-20). Let us make our body “a house of prayer, and not a den of thieves.”

Lord, may we honor Your Church as we honor our body as the temple of Your Holy Spirit; make it a worthy tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Recovering the Lost

Luke 15: 1-10
Phil. 3:3-8a / Ps 105:2-7

I tell you, in the same way there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.
(Luke 15:10)

Be God’s instrument of conversion,
Bring a lost sheep back to His fold;
As Jesus showed in His mission,
In this task everyone is called.

Tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the scribes muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “Who among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and seek the lost one till he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one will not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.” (Luke 15:1-10)

Reflection

The Pharisees and teachers of the law who were scandalized by Jesus’ mingling with tax collectors and sinners must have felt that their criticism was justified in the light of the very first chapter of Psalms, which reads: “Blessed are those who do not keep company with sinners.” (Ps 1:1) But the psalm referred to those who tolerated or even enjoyed the sinful activities of bad company. To illustrate His true intention, our Lord related the parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, and finally followed them with the most beautiful parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

The message that our Lord wishes to impart is that conversion or deliverance always comes first as God’s initiative. Even in the absence of repentance on the part of sinners, His acceptance of their company could be the first step in the right direction for their lives. The important thing was that He was seeking them out, because, as He said, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt.9:13)

Jesus asks us, “Who among you, having a hundred members in your community, and losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine and seek out the errant member, and try to bring him back to active status?” As God’s shepherds, how much of His love and compassion have we received here in our community that we can be as passionate in keeping all our brothers and sisters in the fold as we are in inviting new members to our fellowships? How concerned are we when one of our brothers takes a fall? Do we find ways to get him into a one-on-one dialogue? Or are we instead relieved that he is no longer attending our fellowships and prayer assemblies?

Our Lord shows us in this Gospel reading that we must be willing to get our pristine-white clothes dirty in order to find a lost sheep or a lost coin. He Himself, the Creator of the universe, became a man to elevate us to His glory and kingship (setting us on His shoulders). Even in our sinfulness, in the name of love, because He is Love, He took a big gamble not only in becoming a man (vulnerable to temptation), but in offering us a place in His divinity, sinful though our nature may be.

Teach us, dear God, to imitate our Good Shepherd: to discard our prejudices and our feelings of righteousness, and to seek out brothers who have wandered away from our flock. After all, we are all sinners; we are all in need of repentance. Amen.

The Cost of Discipleship

Luke 14: 25-33
Phil 2:12-18 / Ps 27:1,4,13-14

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
(Luke 14:33)

One obsessed with his possessions
Forms no intimate relations;
But all attachments here on earth
Compared to God’s love have no worth.

Now great crowds accompanied Jesus, and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33)

Reflection

A brother in community once told me, “Compared to God’s love for us, our human love must look more like hate.” This was his reaction when he read today’s Gospel. However, Jesus did not mean that we have to hate our loved ones in order to become His disciples. It must have been just a figure of speech that He used at the time to emphasize the importance of setting aside all attachments if they were to be His effective followers.

The message of Jesus, however, is consistent throughout all His teachings. There is only one ‘pearl of great prize’ that should be the ultimate and only object of our obsession, and that is to have an intimate relationship with God. Everything else fades into insignificance. “What profit is there, after all, for a man who gains the whole world,” but loses the inheritance of God’s kingdom?” (Mark 8:36) His life would be like that of a builder who starts out on something, but never completes the structure, or like a king who goes to battle without any hope of victory. What an utter futility it all would be. But since we have found the Way, and believe that this is the Truth, then as St. Paul exhorts in the first reading, “. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil.2:12b-13).

Dear God, now that I have pledged to follow Jesus, I lift up to you all my loved ones in this life, knowing that they will all be taken care of while I am in the Lord’s service. Bless them, Lord and keep them safe from the evil one, I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.