The necessity of gratitude
October 3rd, 2016
By Father Joseph Previtali
Jesus often declares that faith has saved those whom He heals. This is His beautiful word of Mercy in our gospel this Sunday to the Samaritan leper, who alone returns to thank Him after being cured of his leprosy. The saving faith of this Samaritan is manifest to us specifically in his obedience and in his gratitude.
Obedience and gratitude and faith also go together in our prophetic reading this Sunday about the healing of Naaman the Syrian in the Jordan River. Naaman knows that on the common-sense level the waters of the Jordan are not more powerful to cleanse him than his best pools at home. Yet, trusting in the word of the prophet Elisha, he obeys the command to wash in the Jordan and, because of his obedience, he experiences healing. His faith in God’s Power working through the prophet led him to obey the word of the prophet. But he doesn’t stop there. He then returns to the prophet, full of humility and gratitude, offering gifts to Elisha.
Our Gospel teaches us that obedience alone doesn’t guarantee our saving faith; gratitude is also necessary to live a fruitful life of faith. All ten lepers obey the command of Jesus to go show themselves to the priests. All of them were healed of their leprosy. Only the Samaritan leper’s faith is praised because he alone returned to offer gratitude. This teaches us that obedience is not enough; we must return to the One to Whom we are obedient with joyful gratitude.
St. Augustine interprets the ten lepers as an allegory of our spiritual life in the Church. The lepers all begin sick with their disease, stuck in false doctrine and heresy. Calling Jesus “Master,” the lepers come to the true faith and accept His teaching by receiving the authority of the Church. They receive their healing, then, by going to the priests of the Church to receive the sacraments, especially in the healing power of confession. Notice, however, that this is not enough yet to be saved. For salvation, gratitude is necessary following conversion.
“Whoever then follows true and sound doctrine in the fellowship of the Church,” Augustine writes, “proclaiming himself to be free from the confusion of lies, as it were a leprosy, yet still ungrateful to his Cleanser does not prostrate himself with pious humility of thanksgiving, is like to those of whom the Apostle says, that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, nor were thankful.” It’s not enough just to obey the teachings of the Church and to receive the sacraments. Indeed, this is quite necessary, and yet there remains the joyful duty to render humble and profound gratitude to God for the gift of salvation. This is how faith becomes living unto final perseverance in us.
“He fell upon his face, because he blushes with shame when he remembers the evils he had committed,” writes St. Bede the Venerable. “And he is commended to rise and walk, because he who, knowing his own weakness, lies lowly on the ground, is led to advance by the consolation of the divine word to mighty deeds.” Jesus here is teaching us a way of life, in which our faith in Him leads us to trust Him unto obedience and joyful gratitude. This happens above all in our life of prayer. This is yet another way in which a daily prayer life is necessary for our salvation.
“But if faith made him whole, who hurried himself back to give thanks, therefore does unbelief destroy those who have neglected to give glory to God for mercies received,” St. Bede continues. “Wherefore that we ought to increase our faith by humility, as it is declared in the former parable, so in this is it exemplified in the actions themselves.” We reveal our faith in God finally through our humble gratitude. The nine lepers began by trusting Jesus but they lost their faith when they refused to give thanks. In our gratitude, we profess our faith fully in God’s Goodness and Love. This reality allows St. Paul to command us: “In all circumstances, give thanks.” If we wish to live with joy and peace, if we wish to be saved, we will give thanks to God for everything.
Father Previtali is administrator of Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, Half Moon Bay.
From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.