Sunday, October 9, 2016

Saving Thanks - Homily for the 28th Sunday in OT (C)

As I reflect upon my two years here at St. Joe’s, I find that there is so much for which to be grateful. When I’m with my priestly brothers, I find it’s easy to sing praises about this parish.

For example, I remember the first moment I was here on campus, as I was unloading my belongings into the rectory, a group of American Heritage Girls greeted me with a loving and respectful, “Hi Father,” as though I had been here for years. I remember how a few of you gave me a bit of advice, to take care of myself and don’t let the size of the parish get me down. Ever since then, you have continued to wow me by your generosity and your spiritual zeal: a parish that gives so much to all who ask; parents who are committed to a culture of life; men and women who are doing their best to find their way to heaven and to bring others with them. It’s for these reasons, and a thousand more like them, that I call this place CatholicHappyLand.

And I know what some of you are thinking: Is this a farewell homily?


(You’re stuck with me).

But it's odd, isn' it? That we hear priests praising their parish only when they are leaving it? Well, this parish is too good for me to wait until I’m leaving it to sing its praises.

*          *          *

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the second grade girls’ soccer game. And you know how those games go: the kids are all in a bunch and the coaches try desperately to teach the kids positioning and so on. During this game, there was one little girl who was playing her heart out and was really a stand-out soccer player. She could dribble, she could pass and run, and by the end of the game, she had even scored a goal.

But for all that, I didn’t hear much praise. Maybe 90-10—90% critique to 10% praise.

And I remembered my own days when I was little and playing soccer. I remembered my dad and how, no matter how hard I tried, I never felt I could get a word of praise from him. And maybe he did say a word or two—90-10—but all I remember was that I was a disappointment. Even though I was scoring goals.

As I left the little girls’ game, I felt convicted. I realized that I was making the same mistake with my children: you in the pews.

Up here at this ambo, I spend my time, like those coaches, trying to move us into position, trying to put us into a place where we can win. But, I forget that many of us are already in position. Many of us are already on our way to becoming great saints. And I don’t point that out enough.  And that’s a problem, because I know from my own time on the soccer field that I get burned out from a game full of “move here, go there.”

This past week, I was practicing over at Tony Glavin’s soccer fields, practicing for the annual priests vs. seminarians “Souls and Goals” game (Wednesday, November 9th, 7pm at CBC). During the practice, one of the coaches, a parishioner here, gave me a simple pat on the back and a word of “good work.” It was just a couple of words, but I felt like a million bucks—I had done something right. That spurred me on for the rest of the practice.

I know that that 2nd grader on the soccer field would be a happier girl if she really believed that she was doing something right in the sight of her father. Just a word of praise from him, I am convinced, would lighten her heart and her feet. And light hearts and light feet translate into a better soccer player. Which is what her father wanted in the first place.

And that father would be a happier dad if he just took a moment to realize that he has a daughter. Who runs. Who gets to play soccer. She’s healthy. She not in the hospital on this Saturday morning. Her battle today is with a ball and a goal. Not with cancer. Your daughter is running today. Thanks be to God!

*          *          *

Psychologists and business analysts show time and time again that people and businesses that cultivate an environment of gratitude, appreciation, and praise have happier people and more productive work-places.

In reflecting on this, I found that, more often than not, when I think of things for which to praise God, I, in turn, become a happier person and, even more, I become more apt to see the good in others and to praise them for it. Which, in turn, helps them.

This “feeling” of gratitude, I have found, is more powerful than all of the bad “feelings” that come with focusing on current events.

Truly, I’ve really come to believe that there is more good in this world than bad. There is more good in this world than bad! And not just in the world, but in you: there is more good in you than bad.

And we need to know that. Because there is more to thank God for in this life than to curse about.

And sometimes that takes effort to remember or to believe. Sometimes it is truly hard work to think of what is good when there is so much bad going on. Indeed, when I don’t feel like praising God—that’s exactly the moment that I need to praise Him. To take a breath, to think of the good, and to approach Him who heals my heart. Yes, when I don’t feel like singing—that’s precisely the moment that I should.

*          *          *

Let me put a very fine point on this: what if we were to wake up tomorrow with only those things for which we thanked God today?

Let me repeat that: what if we woke up tomorrow with only those things for which we thanked God today?

*          *          *

And let’s take that a little deeper.

The point of today’s gospel is not simply that the leper comes and thanks Jesus. It’s that all ten are healed, but only one is saved.

Our salvation is tied up with whether or not we give thanks and praise to God. Salvation is tied up with whether or not we throw ourselves at His feet in worship.

And this makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, we are more joyful when we are thankful; we become better people. We start to see the good in others and praise them for it; and they become better. We start to thank God more and see how much He does love us. And that brings us to hope. And “in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24).

That’s why the Mass reminds us:“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks Lord….”

It’s why Jesus says to the leper who worships: “Your faith has saved you.”

And wouldn’t our world be a better place if the course of human events were not solely predicated upon the direction of political candidates, but upon the direction of hearts full of thanksgiving and praise?

That starts with me.

*          *          *

Please join me, then, in doing a little homework. Let's think of five things for which we are thankful—five things that we would miss if we didn’t have them tomorrow. And let's do that not only right now, but every night before we go to bed. Think of those five things. And praise God.

Then we will sing a new song to the Lord. And we shall be saved.