* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
19 Ordinary Time
Gratitude Week 9: Two Steps to Life of Gratitude
(August 8, 2021)
Bottom line: Today we have a two step program: Get rid of all bitterness, then get up and eat.
Today we have the next to the last homily in our summer series on gratitude. We've talked about gratitude in times of trouble and in ordinary times, especially gratitude for things we take for granted, like hands, eyes and feet. Chesterton said, "When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?"
God wants us to live grateful lives. The devil wants to rob us of gratitude - and thus rob us of happiness. Our readings lay out a two-step program for a life of gratitude. The first step is defensive. St. Paul says, "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice." Now anger is not always wrong. On a few occasions Jesus showed anger. When I was a young priest, a psychiatrist said to me, "anger is a good emotion. Use it wisely."
Anger can give a person energy to fight injustices. However, it can also destroy. A parent might be angry at some relative or even some political figure. When he expresses that anger in front of his children, they don't see the just cause. No, they only hear dad's - or mom's - rage and it makes them miserable. They think: Will I be next?
The worst part of anger is that it can lead to bitterness. Notice that bitterness heads St. Paul's list of vices. Bitterness is the acid that eats away person's soul. The devil then enters to fill the empty space and take control. St Paul tells us to get rid of "all" bitterness. It may take some counseling. But it takes something more. As Paul says, "And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ." In the Our Father Jesus gives us a good defense against ingratitude: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Besides a good defense, we need a good offense. In fact, the best defense is a good offense. That's what we see in the first reading. The prophet Elijah is on the point of giving up. The angel says to him, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!" When we sink low we need the Holy Spirit to lift us up. And eat. The angel had given Elijah a hearth cake. As we hear in the Gospel, Jesus give us bread from heaven - his very self. So get up and eat. Make Mass, the Eucharist the essential part of your life.
The word Eucharist means gratitude, thanksgiving. To quote again from Chesterton: "The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them." We have so much but we are unhappy because we lack appreciation.
Once when I was in Peru I celebrated Mass for a group of families. Near the altar for some reason I had a stuff toy, a beige Teddy Bear. One of the children picked it up and started holding it fondly. Then he passed it to another child. By the end of Mass, every child had a turn. The final child then placed the toy back in its place.
When I got home from Peru, I told one of my great-nieces about it. She showed me her closet, filled with stuffed toys. We have so many things, but so little appreciation. How do we achieve appreciation and thus the happiness God wants for us? That will be the question for the final homily next week. By a lovely coincidence it falls on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Today we have a two step program: Get rid of all bitterness, then get up and eat. Amen.