Pastoral Sharings: "Gratitude"

WeeklyMessage Father Phil Bloom
October 13, 2013
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Message: Gratitude is not automatic (just look
at the nine lepers) but it opens the door of
  salvation and prayer.

Last Sunday I concluded a series of homilies on the 
Geography of Faith. The Geography has three basic places: Egypt, the Desert of Decision and the Promised Land. We saw that we can lose the Promised Land, but by God’s grace, return and take up the work of re-building, restoration. To rebuild we have to start with prayer.

I have come to realize that many Catholics do not know how to pray and they do not pray. Surprisingly, even some Catholics who attend Mass and are involved in the parish do not pray. It does not have to be that way. Although I am no expert on prayer and I sometimes have a hard time praying, it turns out that the Gospel for today – and for the coming few Sundays – address the issue of prayer.*

Today we hear about the most basic form of prayer: gratitude. Jesus heals ten lepers. Like them we all experience unexpected blessings. At that moment a person has a choice. He can say, “That’s nice,” and move on. Or he can pause and express thanks. That’s what the Samaritan did. He returned to thank Jesus.

And Jesus said to him, “Your faith has saved you.” Gratitude is the heart of faith. It is the first step in our relationship with God. When we sit down pray, the first things we should so is spend some moments thanking God. “Thank you, Lord, for my life, my family, all the gifts of creation and for your Son Jesus who has saved me.”

Prayer of gratitude has great power. We might be facing some trial or temptation, but when we start praising God, the devil flees. The devil is a proud spirit. He has set himself in competition with God. He cannot stand hearing God praised so he flees.

Let me give you a comparison. It’s a little embarrassing, but when I was a young priest I found myself in competition with another priest.** I don’t think he saw me as a rival, but I felt a rivalry with him. He was tall and I am short. He had a full head of hair and even though I was only in my twenties, I was going bald. He had a deep, rich voice like a Shakespearean actor. Some people actually thought he was from England or maybe Australia. I remember being in room with people singing his praises: How they enjoy his homilies, how helpful he is in the confessional and what a great leader he is! I hated him!** And I couldn’t wait to get out of that room. Well, it’s something similar with the devil. When we praise God, he can’t get out of the room fast enough.

I’d like to explain how gratitude works when we face temptations. Let’s take the common temptation of gluttony. Suppose I wake up some morning and all I can think about is fried food – bacon and fried eggs, deep fried chicken and country fried steak. I might grit your teeth and say, “No, no, I won’t give in to those temptations.” It is better, however, to use gratitude. Thank God that he has given such delicious foods, but then besides fried foods he gives other wonderful food. I think about an apple and how it shines when I rub it against my shirt. And when I bite into it, so crisp and juicy. I thank God that he gives such wonderful foods ready to eat: apples, tomatoes and fresh cucumbers.

Okay, but suppose that, in spite of all positive thinking, I still find yourself at that drive-in window ordering a Big Mac and fries. Instead of guiltily gobbling down the burger and then kicking myself afterwards, I take a moment to thank God. The burger and fries ultimately come from him. If I’m thankful to God, I am more likely to share my own failing with some other person, maybe even in confession: “Father, it has been two months since my last confession and I committed the sin of gluttony about five times.”

A person doesn’t have to give the priest the whole menu. But Jesus does tell us, “Go, show yourself to the priests.” The word confession has two meanings. It means to confess one’s sins, but it also means to confess God’s mercy. Confession is an act of thanksgiving, a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare.

Gratitude doesn’t come easy; sometimes it’s hard to be thankful. For example, many of our young people feel burdened, weighed down with debt. But, you know, the best way to confront a problem like debt is to start with thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on all the things you don’t have, thank God for what you do have. I can guarantee you that people in other countries would trade places with you tomorrow. If they could get even a minimum wage job, they would think they had died and gone to heaven.

Gratitude requires boldness. The Bible teaches tithing: returning the “first fruits” to God, recognizing that he is the source of all we have and thanking him. It’s not just that the church needs your support (we do), but that you need to give. It seems counter-intuitive, but I know people who have tithed themselves out of debt. Tithing turned their minds around. Instead of grumbling, they became grateful givers. Gratitude began to penetrate every aspect of their lives.

Gratitude makes possible a relationship with God – and with each other. At the beginning of the homily I gave you a personal example of rivalry. What finally happened? Well, instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I began to thank God for what I do have. It turns out that I have some ability and determination in learning a second language. Although the other priest did not join me in Hispanic ministry, he became one of my biggest supporters. He went from being my rival to being my ally. I’ve told this to young people who sometimes feel bad when they compare themselves to some other person. He’s smarter than I am; he’s a better athlete than me; he’s more popular. Okay, but God has given you some gifts. Develop them gratefully and be grateful for the other person’s gifts. Someday he might become your vital ally.

Gratitude is not automatic (just look at the nine lepers) but it opens the door of salvation and prayer. We will learn more about prayer next week. For today we see that in the spiritual combat Jesus has given us a powerful weapon: gratitude. In the words of today’s Psalm, “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds…break into song; sing praise.” Amen.

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 13, 2013

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our Old Testament and Gospel readings this weeks both relate how an outsider (a non-Jew) is brought to worship the true God of Israel through a miraculous healing. The Gospel reading of the one thankful leper, the Samaritan, who returns to thank Jesus, is narrated only in Luke and has a similar message that the Good Samaritan does. We are supposed to be a bit shocked by who Jesus’ story favors. The Samaritans, of course, were considered “ethnically impure” from a Jewish perspective.

Thanksgiving – Namaan and the 10 Lepers
Leprosy is a dreadful thing anywhere, anytime.  But in the ancient Near East, it was a particularly heavy burden to bear since it meant complete social isolation.  You could, of course, hang out with other lepers.  But you were bound to stay far away from the healthy as possible lest they be contaminated with your disease.  To be a leper was to be an outcast.

28th Sunday: One of the Nine or the One Out of the Ten?
The Gospel reading presents the healing of the ten lepers. Let’s begin by picturing these ten men walking up to Jerusalem.  They had gone to Jesus, but left, still lepers, with nothing more than his assurance that they were to present themselves to the priests as healed. He didn’t heal them immediately.  What must that walk up to the Temple Hill in Jerusalem been like?  Some of them must have been limping with deformed legs, most likely relying on crutches.  Some had lost fingers and even parts of their face.  Many had horrible sores all over their bodies.

Christ and the Moral Life
A friend reports that, as a young girl in Latin America, she and a roomful of eager fourteen-year old girls were addressed at their confirmation by the bishop, who spent forty minutes regaling them with a disquisition on social justice. Nothing about Jesus, his sacrificial death on the cross, his glorious resurrection from the dead and sending of the Holy Spirit, made present to them in the sacrament they were about to receive.

Holy, holy, holy: Pope talks about his favorite saints
Who are the holy men and women Pope Francis looks up to? He revealed many of them in two recently published interviews.

While a top-eight list does emerge from the interviews, the pope rejected one interviewer’s attempts at giving them a ranking.

Longing for the Face of God – Navigating the Interior Life – Part II of IV
In our last post we introduced the concept of the three ways. In this post and those following we will explore general descriptions of each phase with help from a classic in Catholic spiritual literature, the Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Chautard. I have provided the illustration again here for easy reference.

Little known stories of St Padre Pio
A married couple who couldn’t have children began to turn to Padre Pio so he could intercede for them before the Lord. Not long afterwards, the young woman became pregnant and was extremely worried she would lose the child. One night not long before she was due to give birth, she had a comforting dream. She was in the maternity operating room and before the gynecologist came in she saw a man with a beard standing in a comer of the room, looking at her and smiling. Then she woke up. Judging by photos that she had seen, she thought the man resembled Padre Pio. She spoke about her dream to everyone; for her it had become almost an obsession.

Mary’s Help for Praying
I was broken. I don’t know how else to describe the person I was when I sat in the church on Mother’s Day 2000. As Father preached — in his usual, ordinary way— something in me just snapped. Slowly, the tears started flowing. It didn’t take long for the crying to grow into sobbing, complete with snot and gasps. I had to leave the sanctuary.

Pray the Rosary With Children
During the month we dedicate to the holy Rosary, Oct. 17 marks the 96th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima, Portugal, to three children visionaries: Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.

The Blessed Mother told the children to pray the Rosary daily for peace — and to tell others to pray, too. We honor Our Lady of the Rosary each Oct. 7.

On Oct. 13, 1917, the Miracle of the Sun took place, which Pope Francis will commemorate with Mass and praying the Rosary in Rome Oct. 12-13 this year. Then the Holy Father will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Peter’s Square before the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima from the shrine in Portugal.

Well Said: Crosses Finish God’s Work In Us
I was out of regular life yesterday because I finally gave in to my doctor’s nagging and had a colonoscopy. Oh my word. Ugh.

Anyway, the only reason I mention all that unpleasantness to you is to say that I was more thankful than ever for the Catholic practice of “offering it up.” When things got tough, I’d offer again this sacrifice for a friend who needs prayer. It didn’t make things any more pleasant, of course, but somehow with underlying meaning … not “wasting” the pain … it made it easier to get through.

Why Do We Follow a Secular Compass?
I don’t know about you, but I rarely get through the day without feeling beaten up a little by the demands and pervasive negative influence of the world.  It is difficult to find peace and block out the noise.  I am challenged to avoid committing the same venial sins over and over each day.  When I am weak and under the influence of the surrounding culture, I tend to rely on myself rather than the strength of Christ, my prayer life is dry, I am unfocused in Mass and I am not grateful for the blessings in my life.  These are the times I feel the farthest away from Heaven.  Does this ever happen to you?

The Poverty of Ignorance
One of the hallmarks of the pontificate of Pope Francis so far has been his calling our attention to the conditions of poverty throughout the world. The pope’s concern extends not simply to economic deprivation but also to social injustices, including the mistreatment of migrants and those marginalized as the result of ethnic or class discrimination. This is his embrace of “the option for the poor” as an overarching imperative for Christian life. Rumors from Rome indicate that the pope is preparing an encyclical on poverty, and even suggest its title: “Blessed are the Poor.”

Pope Francis: Prayer Is Not Simply Saying Words ‘Like a Parrot’
In his daily Mass, Pope Francis touched on the importance of prayer and forgiveness in the life of a Christian, warning against common attitudes that “close the door” to God.

“The Lord tells us: ‘The first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer of the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord”.

Guardian Angels: 7 Interesting Facts
Here are 7 Interesting Facts about Guardian Angels
1.The concept of “guardian angels” is thoroughly Jewish. Moses records human interaction with guarding angels in the Torah, and Daniel frequently mentions the powerful role of angels as guardians (see Daniel 10 for details).
2.Christ our Lord explicitly teaches the existence of guardian angels in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

For the Hopeless Heart
Dear child,
I see the good in you. Satan would love nothing more than for you to get lost in your sin and shame. I see beyond those things, I see the goodness I created in your heart. Where you see despair, I find reasons for hope and growth. Where you seek weakness, I see an opportunity for My glory to shine. When you feel lost, I find you in the depths of My heart.

The Only Thing Worse than Pharisees
Reading the Gospels has many, many benefits. It introduces you to the person and words of Christ; it challenges you morally and demands that you stretch your spirit; it issues a call for a kind of compassion that was largely new to the world, and that needs to be made new again in the heart of each generation. There are also some dangers entailed in reading the Gospels naively or carelessly, or through the jaundiced lens screwed on by secular media.  So it’s good to step back and remember the facts on the ground in Palestine, AD 33.  The Jews of that time were much like Christians today: deeply divided, and subject to a hostile government promoting false and alien values.

Why must we suffer?
One of the things with which we so often struggle is to understand our condition in a fallen world. Each of us, in our own way, has experienced the pain and suffering so often encountered as one journeys through this world on our road to heaven. The road to heaven is a way of suffering and sacrifice; and it leads directly through the cross of Christ. If we are to find and stay on this path, this is a truth that we must come to embrace.

Human Failings of the Divine Church
The Catholic Church is not a social club, a fraternal order, a political organization, or even a faith community.

It is a divine institution founded by Christ. Its most important task—the sacraments—are the work of the Holy Spirit. When we go to church, it is God we encounter at Mass and God who hears us in the confessional. And, in receiving the Eucharist, we become the Body of Christ Himself.

Truth is Never Discrimination
Of the Catholic Church’s many teachings, perhaps some of the most challenging for people in today’s culture involve human sexuality, including homosexuality.  As state after state considers changing its laws on the definition of marriage, all of us have had to think about the nature of love, the meaning of marriage and the teaching of the Gospel.  The Church, in fulfilling her mission to preach the Good News of God’s faithful love, has an obligation to teach the truth, especially in the face of a culture and governmental actions which undermine the truth.  This gives rise to many misconceptions about the Church, as well as confusion about what it actually is that the Church proposes to the world.

Enterprise Ethics
One of my favorite television shows when I was younger was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve been watching some old episodes of the series on Netflix and recently I was very surprised and impressed with an episode called “Ethics” and the way it dealt with the issue of disability and assisted suicide.
The episode opens with Lt. Worf getting his spinal cord crushed by a couple of barrels in the cargo bay. As it turns out, there is still no cure for spinal cord injury in the 24th century. Devastated by his diagnosis, Worf asks Comm. Riker to help him perform ritual suicide because, “When a klingon can no longer stand and face his enemies as a warrior, when he becomes a burden to his friends and family, it is time for the Hegh’bat. Time for him to die.”

The Spiritual Abortion Called Limbo
I am pregnant again, and four of the last five pregnancies have ended in miscarriage. A year from now, odds are that I won’t be holding an infant. What I’m about to say is speculative, but be assured I’ve read past opinions and declarations, including the International Theological Commission’s document about limbo. While not dogmatic, that document concludes that there are “strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.”

Christians Complain of Persecution for Defending Traditional Marriage
In the wake of recent legislative and judicial victories for homosexual activists seeking the redefinition of marriage, Catholics and other Christians throughout the United States are complaining of new rules, laws and practices that jeopardize their right to openly oppose homosexual relations and same-sex “marriage” in the military and civilian culture.

Invisible Stigmata?
It is a little-known fact that there are actually two categories or types of stigmata: visible and invisible.

Visible stigmata refer to the spontaneous wound marks that appear on a person’s body that correspond to the wounds Christ bore during his Passion—such as the hands, feet, side, brow, and back. Reported cases of stigmata take various forms. Visible stigmatics might bear some or all of these marks. Others only experience the suffering without any outward marks or wounds, and these phenomena are called invisible stigmata.

The Lies of the Sexual Radicals
The official announcement from the Holy See “decreed that Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II will be enrolled among the saints on April 27, 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter, of the Divine Mercy.” 

During a public consistory with his brother Bishops, Francis, often called the Pope of Mercy by the faithful, announced the expected news that Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II will be raised to sainthood, canonized, together. The confirmation of the date chosen is utterly fitting. The Canonizations will take place on the Sunday Feast of Divine Mercy, April 27, 2014.

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