Our gospel for this weekend relates the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Christ, and the one who returned to give thanks and praise to God. It is a beautiful story of healing and transformation. It is also a familiar story.
It is familiar because it is the gospel which is read for every Thanksgiving Day Mass. If you come here to St. Mary’s next month (and I hope you will!) for Thanksgiving Mass, or anywhere in the United States for that matter, this is the gospel you will hear.
But thanksgiving for us as Catholics is more than just a holiday. It is more than just a word or one gospel passage. Thanksgiving is truly at the heart of our faith and the heart of our Church. The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistian, and it is where we get the word Eucharist.
Each week as we celebrate the Eucharist we offer thanks and praise to God. We offer to Him, in thanksgiving, the body and blood of His Son, Jesus Christ; we offer to Him ourselves along with that Great Sacrifice. And when we make that thanksgiving offering we ourselves benefit and are filled with the God who becomes the Bread of Life for us. We draw ever closer to our Eucharistic Lord in this mystery that is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium #11, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #1).
I would suggest that the Thankful Leper in today’s gospel teaches us, in three particular ways, how to do that: How to approach Jesus Christ and receive Him in this great mystery of our faith.
Firstly, he teaches us that when we approach Christ we need to do so in humility. Lepers at the time of Christ were ostracized from the community; they were to announce their presence as “unclean” and required to stand apart from the rest of the people. But that did not stop these ten from crying out to Christ in their need.
St. Luke tells us how they “stood at a distance from [Jesus] and raised their voices” (Luke 17:12-13). It is hard enough for any of us to admit when we need help or when we are struggling in our lives. How much more so for these men, and to do so out loud and in public? It would have required an abundance of humility.
Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter on the Eucharist, says that we need to have the same humility when we approach Christ in the Blessed Sacrament:
The bread which is broken on our altars . . . is panis angelorum, the bread of angels, which cannot be approached except with the humility of the centurion in the Gospel: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (Mt 8:8; Lk 7:6).
—Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #48
Isn’t that what we say at every Mass? “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” We need humility to approach so great a gift as Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Secondly, the Thankful Leper teaches us that healing, transformation, and growth in the Christian life is not always automatic. It doesn’t usually happen in an instant. It comes, often times, through an ongoing relationship with Christ.
The lepers, following Christ’s command to show themselves to the priests, discovered with astounding joy that “As they were going, they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14). They were on the way, following in the direction Christ led them to, and in that they received healing. So it is with us.
It is through an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ that we receive healing, transformation and growth in the Christian life. We come here to Mass to receive not a wafer, or a piece of bread, but a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to continue to grow in relationship with that Person, and allow Him to heal and transform us “on the way.”
Finally, that Thankful Leper teaches us that, once we have approached Christ in humility and been touched and healed by Him, then we cannot help but fall down before Him, on our knees, in praise, thanksgiving, and adoration.
Realizing he had been healed, [the leper] returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
—Luke 17: 15-16
Isn’t that why we gather we gather together for Mass in the first place? We are “built” to make a sacrifice to God. We were created in the image and likeness of God, to thank and praise Him for all the good He has done for us. It is the natural thing to do, and when we worship Him we are never more truly ourselves.
How will our imitation of the Thankful Leper in our gospel this weekend change us and the world we live in as we enter this new week? How are we being draw to the virtue of humility, to ongoing conversion and relationship with Christ in the Eucharist, and to grow in praise and thanksgiving in our own spiritual lives?
May God continue to draw us ever closer together in this holy gift of the Eucharist, and together, may He draw us ever closer to Himself.