Thursday, November 26, 2009

I’m Not This Eloquent

Although I’m working this holiday, I still have much to be thankful for. I’m thankful that I’m alive and healthy, and I’m especially thankful for the love and support of my wife, my family, and my friends. As many of you know that the first part of this year was a challenge for me, I’m grateful for all of the kindness many people – both friends and strangers alike – showed me. This means more than any of you can ever imagine.

As the title of this post says, I am definitely not this eloquent. I can’t come close, in fact. What follows is my friend Fr. Don’s Thanksgiving homily. He has given me permission to repost his homilies as I see fit. And as usual, his thoughts are definitely worth sharing.

The best part of Thanksgiving following Mass, of course, was always ‘making the way to Grandma’s house’. Both grandmothers made the best deserts. Some years it would be a cream-cheese covered delicious strudel. Memere made the best thick-frosting chocolate cake with homemade French Vanilla ice cream. Thanksgiving Miracle #1 was the amazing abundance of food that came out of a single oven...the best of meat, veggies, homemade bread and all that stuffing makes for a race to leave the table, gorged.

Miracle #2 was the amazing transformation that took place on the way to Grandma’s House...full bellies readied, in seemingly no time at all... devour huge slices of something delicious. Then, the tryptophan and serotonin kicks in. Then, the countdown to Christmas. THAT was Thanksgiving...for a kid. Most of us are not kids. Kids can be forgiven and should be, for their understanding of thanksgiving: food glorious food and people who lovingly prepared it. But, we can’t remain as children forever!

Fortunately, there’s a grown-up sense of Thanksgiving. It’s a tribute to modern medicine that we know very little about leprosy. In Bible times, it was the most feared disease in the world. It was deadly, incurable, hopeless. Feared so much, that anyone suspected of having the disease was banished from society. There was no cure for leprosy till 1873, just 136 years ago. That’s amazing in itself, how serious it was from Biblical times till 1873! The Rabbis of Jesus’ time said that curing leprosy was like raising someone from the dead.

Without rehashing the gospel, there are two miracles contained within it. The first has to do with what it is written in the Book of Leviticus. Leprosy’s first major symptom was the appearance of white hair. Leviticus gives specific instructions concerning the diagnosis and treatment of leprosy. White hair was always considered a danger sign. The person inspected would be quarantined for seven days. Afterwards, if the infection had disappeared, the person would be readmitted to society. If not, the person was diagnosed as having leprosy and banished. Leviticus 13: "The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose. He shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp." Complete banishment!

Miracle number one occurs on the frontier between Samaria and Galilee that Jesus meets the lepers. There were and still are no major cities in that area. Most of the towns resemble poor ghettos. Where else could they go? The Jews didn’t want them, neither did the Samaritans. Jesus sends them to the priests. The priests wanted nothing to do with them either. Here’s a colony of lepers joined by common misfortune and misery. The last part of verse 14 says that "as they went they were cleansed"....not before, not after but during their journey. That means that when they left to go to the priest, they still had leprosy. It even seems like Jesus was helpless, passing them off to the priests.

Miracle number two: the act of going was an act of faith. It didn’t matter how they felt about it. God honored their going in spite of their doubts. That’s tremendous insight for us.Our faith moves mountains when our faith moves us. When Jesus said, "Go show the priest", He was really saying, "Act as if you are already healed", a great piece of advice! So many times we pray and pray and nothing seems to happen. But when our faith–shaky though it may be–finally moves us to action, God honors it and the answer begins to come. Why? Because faith is belief plus unbelief and acting on the belief part.

So many of us are trapped by the curse of passive religion. You know what that is, don’t you? It’s the view that says trusting God means letting Him do it all. So we pray, "Lord, I need money," but we refuse to go out and look for a job. We pray, "Lord, help me lose weight," but we refuse to start exercising. Passive religion uses God as an excuse to do nothing. Trusting God does not equal doing nothing. Remember, the ten lepers were healed as they went. When they arrived, they had no trace of disease. Our faith moves mountains when our faith moves us. That’s miracle number two.

The question remains: "Where are the nine?" They got what they wanted and left. Jesus performed a mighty miracle for them and they said, "Thanks, Lord, I can take it from here." They’re like children who eat their fill and then run away from the dinner table without a word of thanks. "We’re full now. Let’s go out and play and then have dessert." I think this is a real sign of sin in our world, having so little sense of what God has done for us. Often we don’t love the Lord very much or feel grateful for His blessings. We might say it in two different ways: 1) Gratitude is the highest duty of the believer and the supreme virtue, the fountain from which all other blessings flow. 2) Ingratitude is a leprosy of the soul. It eats away the inside, destroys our happiness, cripples our joy, withers our compassion, paralyzes our praise and renders us numb to all the blessings of God.

Someone recently told me: "In many ways, having cancer may be the very best thing that ever happened to me". Cancer itself is blessing, but God often uses such afflictions as vehicles that teach us things we never knew. Faith often deepens. Through any affliction, not just disease, we discover what matters most in life. It’s not just saying ‘God, it’s in your hands’, as if God is always expected to do ‘stuff’ for us. Having disease is not a path we would choose, but, it is path that can help us to realize that many of us go through life saying: "What have you done for me lately, Lord?" And, the Lord replies, "If only you knew."

So much of life is about figuring out we’re not in charge and figuring out who is. Ten were healed that day. Are we living with the nine or with the one? Praise is a choice. We praise grandma for her cake. If we don’t, next year we might not be so blessed. And, a thankful heart is also a choice. We choose the way we live. The one who returned to give thanks chose not to forget what Jesus had done for him. The secret of a thankful heart is a conscious choice not to forget what God has done for us. Hopefully we learn sooner than later, that we can’t leave the table without a grateful heart! Thanksgiving begins when we sit down and gaze on all we have, not when we run from the table just to get more.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Susie Hemingway said...

I like this Thanksgiving post a whole lot Walt...firstly to draw from our minds just how very much we have to be thankful for. Always a good thing to do and how lucky most of us are these days. I loved Fr Don's tales of his childhood Thanksgiving and the memories contained there, the lovely feast day tales and his Grandmothers wonderful deserts, the cream cheese strudel made my mouthwater.
Even the entry about having Cancer and that even then, it can bring undisclosed rewards. How true that is, the time to slowly say your goodbyes perhaps? when so many are robbed of that everyday, to revalue your faith and not to keep asking God for one of his precious miracles, not forgetting either, the help that he has already sent your way, many new friends gained, the skill of good Doctors and Nurses.The control of pain.
Leprosy's is irradicated, perhaps God has it in his plans to tackle Cancer next?
Happy Thanksgiving to you, your wife and family my good friend.

Karen Brook Westhaver said...

This post was *perfect* in every possible way. Your own warm wonderful family celebrations, so traditional and yet also so loving and complete despite this age of American dysfunction. What more can be added to Fr. Don's magnificent homily. It is good to be reminded how great challenges to our mortality are necessary often to yank us out of our misty lack of awareness of what is true, beautiful and important in our lives and to be thence (thence! wow) compelled to live more deeply, more fullly, more richly. And THEN the incredible treat of George Winston's "Thanksgiving". Oh how marvelous to see this performance so up close and personal, to be able to better understand why/how parts of his music are so percussive and all of it so elegant. Thank you, Walt, for this wonderful three-fold gift in your post. I'm only just now catching up, coming up for air after a hectic and trying time. Such joy is enfolded in all the words and music here. It will carry me long into Advent. Thank you for taking the time from your HUGE schedule to post this wonderfulness.

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