Mar. 31, 2017

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.

LET"S RETURN TO GIVE THANKS 

One expression that strongly resonates in the readings of today is, "returning to give thanks". Returning is a way of showing of gratitude. It is used similarly in both the first reading and the gospel. Naaman the Syrian returns with his retinue to give thanks to Elisha for making him clean. Naaman was a leper, a stranger to the God of Israel. He received healing in the name of God. He came back to give thanks. In the gospel, Christ heals ten lepers. He sends them off to the chief priest for ritual cleansing. Along the way, they discover that they are clean. Only one person returns to give thanks to Christ. Scripture says, "And one of them, realizing that he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him" (Lk.17:15). This prompts Jesus to ask, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" (Lk.17:17-18). 

An acronym used to describe religious worship is ACTS. ACTS stands for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Each of these plays a strong role in our relationship with God. In today's readings, the emphasis is on thanksgiving. The Psalm says, "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his great love is without end" (Ps.118:1). In Psalm 92 we read, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your faithful love at day break, and your constancy all through the night" (Ps.92:1-2). Saint Paul challenges us thus, "With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God, and whatever you say or do, let it be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him" (Col.3:16-17). 

Naaman and the Samaritan present a picture of life of gratitude which we often take for granted. But Christ emphasizes the importance of gratitude by his question, "Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" (Lk.17:17-18). Gratitude attracts further kindness. We adore and worship God. We acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness. We ask for favors from him always. We present him with litany of requests. We are in need of good health, good job, good husband/wife, good children, good education, good friends. We need all the good things in life, and sometimes we have them.  But like the nine lepers, we behave as if our achievements are by our own efforts once we get what we want. We walk away. 

Returning to God is associated with remembering. Saint Paul stresses that faith has to be lived and spoken with conviction through remembering. He invites us to "remember" that our salvation comes from Christ Jesus who suffered for our sake. We must remember that God is faithful to his promises. Imagine what the other nine lepers thought after having been healed. Did they remember who healed them? Did they think their recovery was possible because of Christ? Otherwise, why did they go off and not come back? Imagine also that those lepers were not healed after calling out to Jesus. Would they have gone away? Of course, not. They would keep pestering on him till they got what they wanted. Either that they forgot what God did for them or they took their healing for granted. They went away not seeing the need to return to Jesus to thank him. The nine ungrateful lepers settled for too little for had they returned, they, like the Samaritan would have also received the great promise of salvation from Jesus, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you" (Lk.17:19). 

As human beings, we are keen in getting to God once we are pressed with any needs. We come to God in need more than in appreciation. We have to learn from Naaman and the Samaritan today. We have to express our thanks to God. We all know the story of David in the scriptures and how he danced before the ark of God. According to scriptures, "When the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fat sheep. And David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might, wearing a linen cloth. Thus with war crimes and blasts on the horn, David and the entire House of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord" (2Sam.6:13-16). And you know that David's dance prompted Michal's ridicule who accused him of lowering himself before the people. David's response to Michal was, "As the Lord lives, who chose me in preference to your father and his whole family to make me leader of Israel, his people, I shall dance before the Lord and lower myself even further than that. In your eyes I may be base, but by the maids you speak of, by them, I shall be held in honor"         (2Sam.6:21-23). 

In the U.S., for instance, the culture does not so much express the feelings of the people especially in the church. There seems to be greater expression of joy and excitement in the parks, recreational facilities, games/sports, cinema, than in the church. Of course, they are not the same. But we have to be thankful before God, for the bible says, "You will teach me the path of life, fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever" (Ps.16:11). I wish to give you an idea of how we give thanks in my culture. In every Sunday mass, individuals and families recognize the good things the Lord has done for them. They request masses of thanksgiving. They come during the offertory with gifts. They process from the back of the church through the central isle. The band plays special music for them. They dance to the altar to praise God for whatever favors they received. 

We also have special harvest season. The months of October, November and December are special harvest times in Nigeria to celebrate the harvest in churches, a special period to thank God for his gift of fertility and life. There is family harvest, community harvest, parish harvest. At harvest, everyone brings the product of his labor as a recognition of the Source- God. Farmers harvest food stuffs. Traders bring market products. Artists bring special art works. Builders bring building materials. Soccer players bring jerseys and football. Each person, group or family has something to identify with in thanksgiving to God. It is always exciting to see everyone dancing with gifts on their heads and joys on their faces before the Lord. That's why you see me often trying to dance and to express myself in an African way at mass. That is why you see Fr. Godswill sing all the time, "If you're happy and you know, clap your hands". We believe that thanksgiving is expressed through dancing and singing. 

How do we show appreciation to God? In the first place, all our life should be a bundle of thanksgiving. Our existence owes itself to God. David wrote in the Psalms, "I thank you for the wonder of my being" (Ps.139:14). Appreciate the air you breathe, the food, water, health, your ability to move and live. Everything belongs to God. Give thanks to God through service to humanity and to the church. Being a volunteer in the church is one way to give thanks to God. Volunteer in any ministry of your choice- lector, altar server, communion minister, usher, sacristan. We also have the Hospitality group, Winter Relief, Ladies of Sodality. Now we have the Family Apostolate, Total Discipleship, etc. Do something for God.

The Eucharist is a special sacrament of thanksgiving. The Greek words, ""eucharistein" and "eulogein" describe the Eucharist as an action of thanksgiving to God. "It recalls... God's works: creation, redemption and sanctification" (CCC 1328). We should therefore be happy and thankful to God each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. Be thankful, do not grumble. Wear smiling faces to Church, not long rumpled faces. I hate to see rumpled faces. Avoid being sad or upset at Mass, else you lose your grace. Say to Jesus today, "Thank You".