14 October 2007. 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 5, 14-17; Luke 17, 11-19 Developing a Culture of Gratitude
At the end of the first semester of school year 2007-2008, the readings today are timely and appropriate. We find people in the readings expressing their gratitude: Naaman, the Syrian, returns to Elisha, the prophet, to thank him and Yahweh for his cure; and one leper returns to Jesus to pay his gratitude to Him.
The image of the grateful person who returns to give thanks is very important. The images of the readings articulate one of our deepest desires: we would appreciate any show of gratitude from the people whom we serve and love. We wish our children would come and tell us, “Thank you, mom! Thank you, dad!” We wish our friends would remember what we have done for them. We wish that our co-workers would stop for a minute to thank us for taking their job when they were absent. We may find it a little awkward to say this, but it is true: we want to be appreciated. In fact, a word or a note of thanks can make our day.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that the most abominable sin is ingratitude. He said that the foundation of our relationship with God should arise from a deep and sincere recognition of His gifts to us. Therefore, even God would appreciate gratitude.
We live in a culture of ingratitude. We always wanted to get something out of everything we do, and if possible, to get more than what we deserve. A high grade for something we did not work for. Recognition for something we have little contribution. Wrecking the environment is an act of ungratefulness. We take from those who have really worked for it the appreciation they earned. Naturally, the ungrateful person becomes selfish and self-absorbed.
I believe, on the other hand, we need to develop a culture of gratitude and appreciation. A grateful person builds the morale of others. In his overflowing appreciation of having been given gifts which he or she is not worthy, a grateful person naturally shares the gifts to others. A grateful person becomes generous and will not count the cost of service. The person will not ask, “What can I get from this?” but will say, “How can I contribute?” The person then becomes loving and other-oriented; most of all, the person forms communities.
In order to be grateful persons, we need to develop a habit of recognizing God’s goodness. In his book, Pscho Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz said that we need 21 days to form a habit. Thus, we need 21 days to create or to cease to form a habit. To be a grateful person, we can follow these steps from St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The first thing is to express gratitude for the experiences and encounters during the day that have been pleasant and meaningful, whether they seem very trivial or ordinary. We can thank the Lord for the morning, the smell of food or the taste of breakfast, the kind words from someone, the lesson we learn in class or the nice shower after a hard day’s work.
Second, we express gratitude for the larger gifts such as our faith, life, talents, abilities, important friendships and relationships. We recall the strengths we have in a time of difficulty, the intelligence we showed in an exam, our sense of humor when everyone else is sad.
It is therefore appropriate that we end the first semester with a grateful heart. And perhaps, begin to spend the semestral break with a new habit of appreciation. At least for the Philippines today, the semestral break is after all almost a month, more than 21 days to renew our hearts.