Bottom line: Today we begin with small things like a tender shoot or a tiny seed. Or things that we take for granted like hands and eyes and feet.
As you can see from the green vestments, we have returned to Ordinary Time. This will be the first of ten homilies on gratitude. Gratitude - being thankful - seems simple but it's not. During my fifty years of priesthood, I have struggled with gratitude both in my own life and what it means for people who face terrible situations. Still, I am convinced gratitude is at the heart of our lives as Christians. G.K. Chesterton said, "The aim of life is appreciation." The Bible has this beautiful verse: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever."
Gratitude is the basis not only for the spiritual life, but also for human life. Writing in Psychology Today, the psychiatrist Dr. Neel Burton said: "Recent studies have linked gratitude with increased satisfaction, motivation, and energy; better sleep and health; and reduced stress and sadness. Grateful people engage much more with their environment, leading to greater personal growth and self-acceptance, and stronger feelings of purpose, meaning, and connectedness."
If gratitude is so powerful, how do we achieve it? That's what we are going to be talking about this summer. In this first homily I want to emphasize the importance of beginning with small things. The prophet Ezekiel describes God taking a tender shoot and planting it on a high mountain. It becomes a majestic cedar that gives protection for God's creatures. Likewise, Jesus tells about a tiny mustard seed that grows and flourishes. When it comes to gratitude start small like a mustard seed.
One of the greatest writers about gratitude is G.K. Chesterton. He tells about how as child he had no explicit faith in God. But he began to feel thankful for things that most people take for granted, like having hands and feet and eyes. And he was amazed that he had them not just for one day, but for the next day as well. This wonder led him to a simple, profound faith in God. Eventually he joined the Catholic Church.
Chesterton lived in a time when people were consumed by envy, resentment and anger. Chesterton's disarming simplicity, his evident joy touched his contemporaries. Many of them were living dead-ends lives. Chesterton helped them see they didn't have to destroy the other guy in order to get ahead. If you want to learn more about Chesterton, I encourage this summer to read or re-read his masterpieces: The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy. Don't let the titles scare you. With a little effort they are delightful books. They show how wonder and gratitude lead to faith.
Faith is essential. St. Paul says "we walk by faith, not by sight." That's certainly been the case in my 50 years as a priest. It's like the guy Jesus describes scattering seed on the land. It sprouts and grows, "he knows not how." At the end of the day we have to simply trust God and give thanks. That in fact is what Psalm tells us:
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praise to your name, Most High,
To proclaim your kindness at dawn
and your faithfulness throughout the night.
When people ask me what they can do to grow in faith, I recommend having a structure of prayer: Take some time, at least a moment in the morning, to offer the day to God and ask his help. And at night to take stock of the day, ask pardon for any sins, but most important thank God for his presence. As Maya Angelou said, "Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer."
Next Sunday we have Fathers Day. I'm going to say something about thanking God for making us in his image and giving us the gift of masculinity and femininity. It's not an easy message, but I ask you to open your hearts. We need fathers and we need spiritual fathers. Fatherhood depends on gratitude - as does every blessing. Today we begin with small things like a tender shoot or a tiny seed. And things that we take for granted like hands and eyes and feet. And please take home today's Psalm verse: Lord, it is good to give thanks to you. Amen.
Spanish Version (Word document)
From the Archives (Eleventh Ordinary Sunday, Year B)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru