There have been lots of reports in the news about the choices people are making this Thanksgiving – and I am not referring to the turkey or the ham. Sadly, emotions are running so high regarding the recent elections, some families are choosing not to come together, not to invite certain family members. Others are a little more proactive, announcing there will be no political discussions allowed – and I hope that works, but I think it will still be there hanging in the air. Such is life. It is always about the choices we make.
In the gospel, ten lepers were cured – and consequently they are naturally surprised, overjoyed, ecstatic. Lots of choices for their response. But one among them, in the range of all the emotions attending his miraculous cure, chose gratitude and made the choice to return and express his gratitude to Jesus and to God. He could have chosen to run to his family and friends. His joy and a whole range of emotion could have led him to choose any manner of celebratory actions. But he chose to return and express gratitude. Perhaps the words of our reading from Sirach were playing in his head as he fell at the feet of Jesus: “And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth”
Gratitude is indeed a response to the blessings of life, but it is also a choice to see those blessings, name them, and express our gratitude in word and deed. Thanksgiving Day is a particular time when we are reminded, encouraged, and even expected to express our gratitude. Black Friday and Cyber Monday might be a bit more challenging. But what about the ordinary days?
Sure, there are every day reasons for gratitude, but those reasons are mixed in the cauldron of life along with frustration, fear, feeling foolish; regret, remorse, reluctance; anger, apprehension, apathy. We have a whole range of emotions to choose from. Which do we choose most often? The choices we make develop the habits we form and the person we become.
I can’t imagine life as a leper in Jesus’ time. They were forced to live apart from hearth and home, family and friends, and reduced to a life of begging outside the city proper. If that was your life would you choose to be grateful? Even more, would you choose to express that gratitude? Our Samaritan leper had a whole range of emotion he could have chosen in the course of any ordinary day. I wonder if he had a lifetime of choosing and expressing gratitude.
Gratitude, like all our other options, becomes easier to choose as we practice it. Gratitude, like faith and hope and love and commitment, are not inborn traits that some have and others don’t, but rather gratitude is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and more frequently share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others. More than that, you create a climate in which it is easier to be grateful and encourage those around you to see the blessings all around us. Blessings that are there in the ordinary. An ordinary day, a less-than-ordinary river and the in daily choices we make that have become our own “ordinary.”
A Samaritan leper chose gratitude – and maybe it came easy to him after a lifetime of practice. I am sure it wasn’t easy in the beginning. There were days he was overwhelmed by grief, loss, anger at his misfortune at life. There were days when he did not chose gratitude. But in time, it came. Gratitude is never a command. It is always an invitation; one God never tires of making. One we are called to accept.
As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” And there it is – the invitation to choose and practice gratitude in the course of all our days, ordinary or no.
So, let me ask you this, “How are you?” [This where you say, “I am grateful.”]
A simple reply to the simple question, “How are you?” Let it become the faithful choice we make to develop the virtuous habit we form so that the person we become hears the Lord say to us “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”