On Gratitude

I was invited to give a reflection on the readings at the local parish here. After speaking at 4 of 5 masses (the 5th is tonight), I have a whole new appreciation for parish priests. Not only do they have to preach 4 or 5 times in one weekend, but preside at liturgy as well!

For what it's worth, here's a copy of my reflection. It changed from mass to mass, but this is the outline. As for me, I'm going to try to squeeze in a nap before the 6:30 mass. I'm exhausted!

As you can tell by my American accent, I am a visitor here at St Agnes. Like Naaman and the Samaritan in today's readings, I am a foreigner in this country.

My name is Sr. Susan and I am a 2nd Year Novice with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Many of you may know our Sr. Alexine who is very involved here in the parish. As part of my Novitiate program, I am living with our Sisters here in the neighborhood for 3 months to experience life and ministry in our British Province. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to spend some time here with our British Sisters in the country where we were founded 125 years ago.

It is fitting really that I find myself filled with gratitude, because gratitude – and the response it elicits in us – is the message of the readings we just heard proclaimed.

Both the first reading and Gospel feature a similar story line and message. Both Naaman and the Samaritan suffer leprosy. Both are healed, and in a rather dramatic fashion, both experience an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to - and faith in - a loving God.

Naaman, has a religious conversion after his healing - while in the Gospel story, the Samaritan runs back with enthusiasm to throw himself at the feet of Jesus and say thank you.

Our own lives may not seem quite so dramatic. Our own need for healing may be more subtle, although it is no less real. God knows where we need healing in our own lives. Perhaps it is from a past hurt we have suffered. Maybe we need to be forgiven for something we have done. Or it could be something else entirely, known only to ourselves and our loving God. Whatever our need, today's readings remind us that God – in his faithful love and care for us – hears our prayers.

Of course at those dark times in our lives it might seem as if our prayers aren't answered. Next week is the 4th Anniversary of my mother's death after a long struggle with cancer. She certainly prayed for healing, as did my entire family. And yet, she is no longer with us.

Looking back though, I can see that there was tremendous healing present in the midst of this difficult time. My family pulled together for one thing, crossing miles – both literally and figuratively – to care for my mother. Old hurts were healed, and my own strained relationship with my father was strengthened and renewed, for which I am so very grateful.

I'm sure that if we stopped now and each took a moment to reflect, most, if not all, of us would be able to recall a time in our lives when we experienced the healing presence of God. Perhaps it was reconciliation with an estranged son or daughter at the birth of a new grandchild. Or it could be something as simple as watching a beautiful sunset and feeling the awesome power of God's love as if for the first time. Whatever the moment, I'm sure it was followed by an overwhelming feeling of wonder and gratitude, like I felt when my relationship with my father was healed.

This past week, I heard a beautiful story of gratitude on television, of all places! I watched the Pride of Britain Awards – a wonderful program that highlights good things people are doing to help their friends, neighbors and even strangers. The news headlines are usually filled with stories of bad people doing bad things, so this was a pleasant surprise!

One story that I have been unable to get out of my mind and heart is that of a 6 year old girl named Lydia Cross, who won a "Child of Courage" Award. When Lydia was just 3 years old, she suffered an acute case of meningitis that was at first misdiagnosed as a simple ear infection. By the time she got to the hospital, she was in multi-organ failure and required life support for several days. In the end she recovered, but needed to have both legs amputated.

Today, she manages to get around on her prosthetic legs and do many of the things children do – running, riding her bike, and generally enjoying life. She is also an active pint sized campaigner for the Meningitis Research Foundation, sharing her story so that parents and doctors can learn to spot the early warning signs of the disease. As she said so simply at the awards show, she "doesn't want other people to get Meningitis."

At six years old, Lydia seems to understand – and live - what Naaman and the Samaritan have to tell us today. Her gratitude for her healing leads her to reach out to others. Even with her disability and at the age of six, she is running back with enthusiasm to say thank you, just like the Samaritan.

The stories of Naaman and the Samaritan, the story of Lydia, the stories of our own experiences of healing, tell us that gratitude is a transformative experience that opens us up both to God and to our brothers and sisters here on earth. It invites us to step out of our own concerns and open up to the needs of our neighbors.

Like Lydia, we are all called to care for our neighbors, far and near. Many of you are already involved in endeavors to help those in need. I see in your parish newsletter that you raised over one thousand pounds for the CAFOD collection to help the poor in other countries. Another opportunity is to offer your prayer and donations to World Mission Sunday next week to support churches, hospitals, schools and vocations in countries where the Church is new, young, or poor. Or you may be called to help someone closer to home. Whatever form it takes, our response in gratitude is really an expression of our faith in our loving God.

As St. Paul says in the 2nd reading today, "God's message cannot be chained up." It is up to us to bring God's message of love to our world – a world desperately in need of healing itself – through our deeds and actions. Truly grateful to God for his healing presence in our lives, we join the Samaritans and Lydias of the world by running back with enthusiasm to say thank you through our own actions and very lives.


Melissa said...

Thanks for sharing your reflections and for the reminders - it was nice to pause here in my morning coffee/blog reading mode and reflect on those moments in my own life when I have felt that healing presence and the feelings of gratitude.
I wish the news would focus more on the good news, like Lydia's story!

Lisa said...


You really have a gift for putting interior reflections into words and putting those words together in a way that touches the human soul. May the Spirit continue to grace you in this way! (and many others, too :)

Kelly_SSJ/A said...

Thank you for sharing! It has definetly got me reflecting and thinking as well.

Susan D said...

Splendid reflection, Susan! Thoughtful, clear, personal, with a great take-home message - all this from a Yankee! Clearly you and the UK are enjoying each other a lot.

leah sophia said...

Our own need for healing may be more subtle, although it is no less real. God knows where we need healing in our own lives.

Yes, and really beautiful all told, thanks!