28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RETURN TO GRATITUDE

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Ever since the novena began in the Baclaran shrine, devotees have been writing letters of petitions and thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

On any given year, the letters of petitions outnumber the letters of thanksgiving by a huge margin. Of the total letters received every year, 85% to 90% are letters of petitions while 10% to 15% are letters of thanksgiving. In 2016, for example, 136,819 letters of petitions were received which represents 87.83% of the total letters received while only 18,954 letters of thanksgiving were received which represents 12.17% of the total letters received.

In the gospel of today’s 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10 lepers petitioned Jesus to cure them and Jesus cured them all. Only one of them, however, returned to give thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. When he prostrated himself before Jesus and thanked him, Jesus remarked on the absence of the other nine. 

“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.”

In our lives today, despite the many ills and difficulties we experience everyday, there are so many wonderful things that we we can give thanks for. But we do not.

Why? Because, giving thanks is like slowing down or taking a step back in order to appreciate the good things in our lives. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered to pause from our hectic schedules. We are always busy with so many things. We are busy with, of course, the basic necessities of life–earning a living, doing our daily chores, fulfilling our role as parents, wife, husband, children, and the duties and responsibilities we hold at work, organizations, church and society. But we are also busy with getting rich, with saving money to get a brand new car, with getting to the top of the ladder, with getting an award, with advancing our career.

I am not saying that these aren’t worthy aspirations. But our attention has been drawn more and more to things that we should accomplish, we should earn, we should accumulate. We become preoccupied with success, accomplishments that sometimes we fail to smell the flowers as it were. More is better and there can never be a moment when it is enough. 

In a world driven by profit, there is a price tag for almost all good things. Even love, happiness and peace have become commodities that we have to earn or buy. The saying that “the best things in life are free!” seems to be just an illusion. 

This commodified mindset is also present in our spiritual lives, unfortunately. The nine lepers who were cured by Jesus were more concerned with fulfilling the religious rituals of cleansing rather than  giving thanks to God. In the same way, many of us are more concerned with fulfilling and doing our religious duties and obligations but fail to give thanks to unconditional love of God.

Ever wondered why despite the affluence and comfort, the suicide rate is very high in wealthy countries. Ever wondered why in first world countries many are suffering from depression and loneliness. It seemed that in today’s existential reality, there is a profound alienation from the original goodness and giftedness of life. This has led to seeing life and the meaning of one’s identity in a materialistic way; every aspect of life is attached to commodity.

Today’s gospel calls for radical change not just simply a call to give thanks and become more mindful of the virtue of gratitude. Today’s gospel call us to confront the social structures and system that has alienated us from the original giftedness of life and the original blessing of God’s creation. It is a calling to truly live out the saying, “the best things in life are free” and to add to this “because we were created in the free and gratuitous love of God.”

God has blessed us with a wonderful earth and filled it with a beautiful family of brothers and sisters. As Christians, we are called to have thankful worship of God, expressed in care for the lepers and blind people of our day—the poor, hungry, and homeless, the victims of war and oppression, the suffering and dying.

This is what we celebrate every Sunday in the eucharist.  Every eucharist is a call to return to gratitude. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia, εὐχαριστία, which means thanksgiving. Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving to God for the original and gratuitous goodness that God has bestowed upon all life. In this way it is a counter-symbol to the prevalent culture of profit and greed which has led to the commodification of everyday life. The eucharist calls us to partake of the body and blood of Jesus by worshipping and returning to God and like Jesus, sharing our lives in service to others.