Healing and Gratitude
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

These readings are about healing and gratitude. Only one of the ten lepers returns to thank Jesus. It was a spirit of gratitude that moved him to return to the Lord.

A spirit of gratitude is really the starting point of religion. The reason for this is that the virtue of religion is a part of the virtue of justice. And that is not a Christian concept. We find that insight in Aristotle, who said justice is the perpetual will to render what is due to another. He pointed out that there are three debts we have that we cannot fully repay. The first is the debt we owe our parents, the other is a debt towards the civil community as a whole, and in his words, we have a debt to the gods that we cannot fully repay. But we are obligated to pay those debts to the full extent of our ability. And St. Thomas Aquinas, who took over these insights, points out that the virtue of religion is the most perfect part of the virtue of justice. And so an irreligious man is an unjust man.

But justice begins with the recognition of a debt. And gratitude is the recognition that what we’ve been given, whatever it is, has been given without our having earned it. The expression “thank you” is that verbal recognition. In thanking you, I acknowledge your gratuitous act and I let you know that you have made my life better.

But isn’t it interesting that we hear that expression less and less today. I don’t know about you, but I notice that fewer and fewer people say “thank you” when you hold the door open for them, either at the Mall or a Tim Horton’s, or at school. People say “please” less frequently as well. Just listen to people order a coffee at Tim Horton’s. Very often there is no “please” or “thank you”. Instead of “thank you”, it’s “yep”.

In former times, parents used to stress the importance of “please” and “thank you” to their kids. That was fundamental. It was regarded as the primary way to relate to others. “Make sure to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’”, our mothers would say; for some reason that does not seem to be the case anymore—at least not to the same extent.

If you ever study First Nation or Aboriginal ceremonies and rituals, what you’ll notice is the profound sense of gratitude in some of their rites. In the peace pipe ceremony, the Ojibway Indians, for example, were grateful to each of the four seasons for all that it brought them, and they expressed their gratitude, simultaneously, to the four directions of the earth, because each direction (space) brings a unique seasonal offering (time). And since each day was a microcosm of the year, they expressed gratitude to the four parts of the day (sunrise, daytime, sunset, and nighttime), articulating exactly what it was that they were grateful for, not to mention certain petitions.

Thanksgiving is an ancient feast, and it was an intrinsically religious feast. Among us it was, at one time, a holy day, a holiday feast that was truly about giving thanks in a genuine spirit of gratitude. Now, for a lot of people, it’s just a long weekend.

The reason is that we once had a more profound grasp on our radical dependency. We knew our relative helplessness in the face of nature. A good harvest was not something we could bring about on our own power. We knew we were dependent upon something larger than ourselves. We had a deeper sense of our own vulnerability and frailty.

But as we became more urbanized and supported by the security of a social safety structure, the more we gradually lost a sense of our own dependency. And with the influence of the Individualism of the 60s, with its emphasis on rights without obligations, gradually people began to acquire a sense of entitlement.

So with an eroding sense of our own radical dependency and vulnerability and a greater sense of entitlement, that sense of gratitude that is at the root of the three parts of justice, namely piety (honor of parents), patriotism (honor of country), and the virtue of religion, that sense of gratitude at the heart of these virtues began to die out. The result was an increasing spirit of irreverence on the part of children towards their parents, almost no sense of any obligation towards the civil community as a whole—instead, a sense of entitlement—, and a greater indifference towards religion.

But one thing that continues to bring people back in touch with their own dependency and radical helplessness is sickness. I’m not talking about the flu or a cold. Real sickness, like cancer, or a stroke, or clinical depression, or a very serious mental illness, etc., snaps us out of the illusion of independence and brings us back to reality. It is somewhat ironic to suggest that mental illness brings one back to reality, but many people with mental illness have a much deeper sense of their poverty of spirit and their need for God than those with their health intact.

But all of us need healing, because all of us are sick—many of us just don’t know it yet. We may not be physically sick, or mentally ill, but we’re all spiritually sick, which is the worst sickness, and it is not accompanied by any pain, which is why it is the most difficult to become aware of. But we all struggle with a propensity to sin, which is why we are born in need of a Savior.

If we look at the seven capital sins, from which all other sins arise, and if we do so in a spirit of real sincerity and honesty, in the context of prayer, asking God to illuminate our minds so as to know ourselves more clearly, we will see that we struggle with one or more of them.

There is pride, which is the most serious. Pride is inordinate self-esteem; we lack a healthy sense of our own limitations. There is envy, which involves feeling a kind of sadness at the good fortune of another and/or a secret delight in another’s misfortune. There is avarice, which Jesus condemned more than any other sin. Avarice is the inordinate love of possessing, the excessive love of security. There is anger, which is not the sudden anger towards an injustice—which is a virtue, but rather the deliberate decision to nurse anger against another. There is sloth, which is widespread. Sloth is indifference, especially indifference to truth, indifference to justice, indifference to holiness; one is more concerned about feeling good rather than actually doing good and thereby becoming good. There is lust, which is behind so much of popular culture today, and lust is inordinate sexual appetite. It is lust that has led us as a culture to separate sex from the context of marriage. And finally gluttony, which isn’t necessarily overeating; it also involves a kind of snobbery that settles for only the finest foods. It includes wasting food. In short, gluttony is living to dine, rather than dining to live.

All of us have a battle on our hands, and our struggle is somewhere along the continuum of those seven sins.

This gospel was about healing and gratitude. If we have the willingness to look upon our sickness and acknowledge it, we will be open to the Lord’s healing. The more we are willing to see that unsightliness in ourselves, the more open we will be to the Lord’s healing, and the greater and more extensive will that healing be. And when we experience the Lord’s healing hand upon us, it will be an experience of freedom, much greater freedom, and we will be moved to return to him in a spirit of gratitude, like the leper. Then religion becomes something living and genuine for us. Then, instead of living in a state of low-grade anxiety, which is typical of most people today, we’ll begin to live in a spirit of real supernatural joy.