There is a legend about two angels who were sent from heaven each with a basket. They went from place to place, to homes, churches, businesses, schools, anywhere people were active. Then they returned to heaven with their baskets. One was heavy with its bounty and the other was light. “What do you have in your basket,” one asked the other. “I was sent to collect the prayers of all the people who said, I want or please give me,” answered the one with the heavy basket. “What of yours?” the angel with the light basket was asked: “Oh I was sent to collect the thank you-s of all the people to whom God had sent a blessing. See how few remembered to offer thanks.”
My life and I am sure yours is not all popcorn and strawberry sundaes. There are beautiful moments and there are heavy times. What can help us through those hard days is gratitude, being grateful for the gift of life, grateful for the gift of others, grateful for the gift of Our Lord on the cross, grateful for His Church and the sacraments.
I keep what I call a Blue Day file. In it are letters and cards of gratitude from those who took the time to thank me for something I did or said. For instance I received an anonymous note in the mail thanking me for what I had done for a friend of the writer, letting me know that I was appreciated. I was only doing my job, but it made my day. Life is not full of thank you-s. Pope Francis has said that the words “thank you” are an important ingredient in lasting marriages. I would suggest in all vocations.
Certainly we ought not do something or give something in expectation of being thanked. Someone wisely said, “When the giver insists that thanks be said, the gold in the gift turns to lead.” But as receivers of gifts and blessings we ought to pause once awhile to reflect on them. Then when appropriate acknowledge those who have helped bring them to us, including God.
Luke tells us that the healed leper when realizing what had happened changed direction, turned around, returned and fell at the feet of Jesus praising God. Jesus asked where the other nine who had also been healed. He did not need the exhilaration of thanks which we mortals do. But he suggests perhaps that when we live a life of gratitude we turn from focusing on ourselves and this world alone to God and the world to come.
Sadly gratitude is not inherent to us. A mother went shopping with her little daughter. At the produce stand the farmer smiled at her and gave the child a big juicy orange. “What do you say?” her mother prompted her. The little girl held out the orange and said, “Peel it”. Surely that was not what her mother had hoped for but so human.
Another little girl was sitting alone in a restaurant. A tired waitress approached and with a sharp tone asked what the girl wanted. “How much is an ice cream sundae?” “A dollar seventy-five” the waitress snapped. The girl counted her money. “How much is a dish of just plain ice cream?” “A dollar fifty.” “Then I’ll have the ice cream please.” After the little girl left when the waitress cleared the table she discovered a tip of 25 cents enough to have purchased the sundae. The girl sacrificed her want in order to tip the waitress. How many sacrificial acts of kindness do we receive and not notice?
Think of all those times when everything goes smoothly. Meals appear on time and taste good; service is provided well, help is offered without asking. We often accept that as our right, oblivious to those who have provided for us.
Are we that way about the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross, about the sacraments and the Church he instituted for us? Do we take them for granted? Are we grateful for His presence body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist or do we take Him for granted. We ought to come to Mass not out of obligation but out of gratitude.
If we are grateful for the blessing of the little things of life how much more ought we be grateful for the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, for the Church he instituted, and for the peace he offers. Jesus calls us to be grateful even in the midst of our sufferings. He suffered willingly out of love for us. It is easy to focus on the down things in life, the weaknesses of ourselves and others, the difficulties and the annoyances we face. But if we approach even them with gratitude we can see beyond ourselves and build a thankful relationship with God which brings peace even in the midst of challenge, joy in the midst of strife.
Naaman in our first reading was a military commander with leprosy who had tried all the worldly means of healing and only reluctantly gave in to the Lord’s messenger Elisha and plunged into the Jordan River where he was healed. Elisha would accept no gift of thanks pointing Naaman to the true giver of gifts, the Lord. It led Naaman to declare “I will no longer offer sacrifice to any other God except to the Lord.” Grateful for God’s blessings, we ought not worship the phony gods of the world, but God alone.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading writing from prison offers words of encouragement to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, which is the Gospel for which I suffer. If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we persevere we shall also reign with him.” While I am appreciative of the contents of my blue day file, my episcopal motto sets forth what St. Paul calls us to: Give Praise to the Lord.
As disciples of Christ our faith should lead us to focus more on the blessings we have received than on the testings we have faced, on the abilities we have been granted than on the limits we have encountered. It is tempting to focus on the down things in life, the weaknesses of ourselves and others, the difficulties and annoyances we face. The devil encourages us to do so. But as St. Vincent de Paul said, “Strive to live content in the midst of those things that cause you discontent.” We can and will be content if we maintain a thankful relationship with God even in the midst of storms.
Let us appropriate for ourselves the prayer of the poet: “Thou who has given so much to me, give me one thing more, a grateful heart.”