Growing up in a fairly large extended Catholic family, I remember the Thanksgivings of my childhood always including long, loud dinners, preceded by seemingly longer prayers of grace before the big meal. As children, we were encouraged (or, really, required) to go around the table and each name one thing we were most thankful for. It could be something small or large, momentous or enduring, as long as it was something we were truly grateful to have in our lives. My parents, aunts, and uncles were naturally trying to make sure we didn’t take for granted the food on the table, let alone all the other blessings in our young lives.
There were plenty of years when, fancying myself the dutiful elder of two children, I’d spend the week or so leading up to the holiday concocting the best possible thing to say I was thankful for, lest my younger sister or one of my cousins come up with something better. And then there were the years when I completely forgot to prepare, only to halfheartedly come up with something on the spot when my turn came. While the former may have boosted my ego, the latter made up for it by knocking me down a peg. I’d often think to myself, “Could I really be so ungrateful that that’s all I could come up with?”
As we hear in today’s Gospel reading, one of the ten lepers, “realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice.” Jesus commended the Samaritan man’s gratitude, telling him, “your faith has saved you.” Don’t we all prefer to think of ourselves as that dutiful, humble foreigner, rather than counting ourselves among the nine ungrateful ones who couldn’t be bothered to thank Jesus? And yet, how quick we are to forget the truth that we are, in fact, abundantly blessed by God.
I’ve always found this story to have two key points. First, we are better able to receive God’s blessings and grace when we are grateful: “your faith has saved you.” The second is a bit more hidden, though. Note how Luke mentions that, “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned” to thank Jesus. It’s not necessarily true that the other nine were just a bunch of ingrates. Rather, they were doing what Christ had instructed them to do. They obeyed in an act of faith, and in so doing, were healed along the way. While they were healed physically, however, the leper who returns is also healed spiritually: he is saved.
How often do we forget, in the midst of the stresses and struggles of life, that we’ve each been blessed by God? It’s not a matter of remembering to thank Him for the big things; those parts of life are the easiest to be grateful for. It’s the small things, the things we take for granted, that we ought to try the hardest to be thankful for. Not only will that reflection make us more appreciative of our blessings themselves, it will remind us even more deeply that all of life’s blessings are gifts from God.
Question for Reflection: What are some things you are grateful for this year?
We are often our own harshest critics. This is the case in my own life, and sometimes I look up in exasperation at God and tell Him I’m tired…of myself. In our culture of busy-ness and perfectionism, high achievement and the constant thirst for more, it’s tempting to balk at our deficiencies, cringe at our weakness, run from our blemishes.
How could I have said that? Why did I fail at that again? How have I not learned?
These thoughts run through our defeated minds if we forget in this Jubilee of Mercy to be merciful to ourselves. So often, we turn to shame, annoyance and frustration when we fall, sin or come face-to-face with our humanity.
I imagine this is how the woman at the well felt as she went to get water at the hottest time of day. Divorced and remarried multiple times, she was seen as unclean by her Samaritan kinsmen. She avoided the other villagers at all costs in order to protect herself from their condemning gaze. There was one gaze, however, that she was powerless against: His. It was a gaze far more surprising than all others. A gaze not of condemnation, but piercing in its persistence and compassion—the gaze of love from God Himself.
What must it have felt like to look up in the noon day heat and meet His gaze? What must it have felt like to be seen, known, and loved by the Son of Man?
This is Christ’s eternal gaze upon all of us. If you’ve already experience it, you can relate to the Samaritan woman. If not, I invite you to look up from your well and meet Him there.
How He waits for us—the Christ! How He goes out to our man-made wells of sin and shame, of selfishness and pride, of indifference and bitterness to meet His children, to remind them that they are loved! He comes to you, to me. The Lover pursues His beloved. The Shepherd pursues His sheep. The Father pursues the prodigal son.
God desires us.
Encountering this love and mercy leaves no room for indifference or fear. We long to reciprocate this love, as the woman at the well did. She left her jar, the very reason she came to the well, in order to proclaim the Christ to her entire town—the town she had avoided at all costs (cf Jn 4:28-29). This is radical. This is the conversion that results from the beautiful and delicate balance of love and justice, mercy, and truth.
We are loved even when we have deemed ourselves unlovable. We are desired even when we remain indifferent. We are sought when we hide. And today we are being called and sent forth to bring His gaze to the nations.
Why? Because we were created for greatness, though we are pilgrims living in a fallen world. We were created for life with God Himself; to live blameless, spotless, white as snow. Yet we live in a world in which we are often warring against God, ourselves, one another, and nature.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, we are reminded that our scars or weaknesses should not scandalize us to the point of paralyzation or despair. We can no longer be imprisoned by our sin because we have a Savior—one who calls us to transfiguration and gives us the hope of the Resurrection, which we celebrate in 10 days. The piercing love of God elevates us to be salt of the earth, light to the nations. If we live in the certainty of being loved, we cannot refuse to be gentle and merciful to ourselves. Only in receiving His merciful love each day will we be able to love ourselves purely in the way that enables us to purely love our fallen brothers and sisters.
Rather than cower at our weakness, going to the well at noon, let us embrace it—giving ourselves fully and completely to the One who can transform our weakness for His glory! May we cling to Him, not to ourselves, surrendering our folly to His wisdom, our sin to His perfection, our indifference to His love, our brokenness to His wholeness.
Leave your jar at the well and go forth.
For more resources to guide you throughout this Jubilee of Mercy, click here.
After the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States, the Catholic Apostolate Center would like to share some of our favorite quotes from his time here. This is a two-week series where we will share 10 quotes each week. We invite you to use these quotes and images as you “Move forward! Siempre adelante!” in your journey of faith.
1. "Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
St. Therese of Lisieux championed the “little way” of attaining holiness by doing small things with great love. Today, Pope Francis reminds us that it is in doing little things with great love that we can achieve sanctity. Try this week to incorporate the “little way” mentality into your work, your home, your parish or your school.
2. "I encourage you to be renewed in the joy of that first encounter with Jesus and to draw from that joy renewed fidelity and strength." (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
It is the personal encounter with Jesus Christ that is at the heart of our journey to holiness. All of us are invited to have the “for me” moment of Mary after the Annunciation, who proclaimed to her cousin Elizabeth, the “Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). This “for me” statement is the result of God’s work in our personal lives—it is the distinct relationship that each person has with God himself. Spend some time reflecting upon your personal encounter with Christ. When did it happen in your life? What great things has the Lord done for you? If you feel like you haven’t yet encountered Christ personally, ask him to open the eyes of your heart so that you may know how much you are loved.
3. “What about you? What are you going to do?” (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
In his homily during Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis talked about the story of St. Katharine Drexel when she spoke to Pope Leo XIII about the needs of the missions.
After listening to her, Leo XIII wisely asked her, “what about you? what are you going to do?” Rather than pointing out the needs of your community, parish or school to others, why not try to fill the void or start a positive change yourself? What if we contributed constructive ideas and did some of the hard work instead of pointing out weaknesses or problems in our institutions? Many in our world today misunderstand Catholicism and the Church. Pope Francis asks us the same question today, “what about you? What are you going to do?”
4. "We are sought by God; he waits for us." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Sometimes, we may feel lost or abandoned. Friends, family members or co-workers may let us down. Our lives may seem plagued by suffering, loss or confusion. In whatever situation you may find yourself in today, you are sought by God. You are loved. You are pursued. You are waited for. God, who is greater than time, is completely present to you and your life. He awaits only for your invitation. You are sought by God. Today, we invite you to seek him in return.
5. "Jesus seeks us out." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
Jesus seeks us out personally. We see this in a very real way in the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus goes to the well and waits for the woman there. She goes in the middle of the day, the hottest time, in order to avoid other people in her community because she is living a life of sin. At first, the woman is defensive and even rude to Christ, but by the end of their dialogue, she proclaims that he is the Messiah and goes off to tell the whole town. Jesus is not scandalized by our sin in the sense that he will never abandon us to it or fail to seek us out in the midst of it. Christ seeks you out today at whatever well you find yourself standing by.
6. "May you make possible new opportunities; may you blaze new trails, new paths." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
We are given our mission at Baptism. This mission leads us down news trails and new paths that are meant to bring us back to God and bring others along with us towards him. All of our lives have a divine purpose. We can change and sanctify the world from wherever we find ourselves. These words from Pope Francis are made more powerful given their context: he is speaking to detainees in prison. What Pope Francis is reminding them of is the importance and dignity of their lives. Regardless of the fact that they are behind bars, they can still blaze new trails and new paths. They can still pursue holiness and make new opportunities. They can still sanctify the world by their actions. Pope Francis says these words also to me and you.
7. "Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
We are a people of Resurrection, a people called to join in the victory of Christ. If you’re going through hardship, you’re not alone. Everyone is impacted by sin, suffering and death—but Christ has given us the hope of eternal life and joy. After his Passion, when the Resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, he told them, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27). He promises peace that the world itself cannot give. If you’re feeling discouraged, ask Christ today for his peace. It is the peace that surpasses all understanding, but it is peace that remains despite sin, suffering and death.
8. "Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
Freedom entails serving the common good. What frees us completely is self-sacrificial love. For this reason, Jesus was completely free, as was his mother Mary. They were unencumbered by selfishness, living instead for others. Our nation was built on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pope Francis reminded the United States of this foundation in his address at Independence Hall, calling us to preserve and cherish freedom. We do this day by day when we imitate Jesus and Mary by living for others.
9. "Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people." (Mass at Madison Square Garden)
We are called to be witnesses of the joy of the Gospel daily. One act of love or service is not enough. We can often get complacent with our good deeds and actions—a temptation the Pharisees fell into. Instead, we are called each day to ask, “what more can I do for Christ? How can I continue to grow? Are there people that need my love, respect or attention?” Pope Francis’ words revitalize us. Go out again and again in hope, with joy and with courage to proclaim the of Christ.
10. "Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side." (Mass at Madison Square Garden )
Part of the good news is that God walks at our side. We are never alone in proclaiming the Gospel or in pursuing holiness. God is with us—giving us everything we need through other people, prayer, his grace, the sacraments. When we fall, he picks us back up. When we are weak, he carries us. We live in the joy of knowing we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (cf Philippians 4:13). This joy impels us to proclaim this good new to others.
For more resources from Pope Francis' Papal Visit to the United States, please visit http://www.papalvisit2015.us.