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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 12, 2007 Issue 

Training in the discipline of gratitude

We return to our God at Sunday worship to give thanks for the blessings

October 14, 2007 -- 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

photo of Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. Who are the people who taught you gratitude?

2. How often do you say: "Thank you"?

3. What are the blessings given you this past week?

Ten percent doesn't seem terribly high. To complete 10 percent of one's passes in a football game is not impressive. To get one hit out of 10 in a baseball series might mean the bench. To give 10 percent to the church - ah, that's another story.

In the Gospel today, one out of 10 individuals who were healed came back to thank the Lord for being saved. There's something wrong with this picture. What's wrong is that tendency to take things for granted, to be blessed and not to respond. This is not a good way to live, for it deprives us of joy and happiness.

We know next to nothing about the cured leper who returned to give thanks. But I would conjecture that somewhere along the line he was trained in "the discipline of gratitude." Perhaps his mother or grandmother, a teacher or uncle, taught him to say "thanks" whenever a blessing came his way. The other nine? Perhaps they lacked a mentor or model in the art of thanksgiving.

When Naaman was cured as he plunged into the river Jordon, he immediately returned to Elisha and offered a gift in thanksgiving. That is what we do every Sunday. We return to our God in the Eucharist to give thanks for the blessing of the week: a letter from a friend, a beautiful autumn day, the opportunity to share in the joys and sorrows of our companions, the awareness of our freedom and faith, a glorious sunset, a word of affirmation, and the list goes on. We practice gratitude by our Sunday worship; we refuse to take God's gift for granted.

St. Paul is always challenging his communities to give thanks. His mission was to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of God's love and mercy revealed in Jesus. One can sense Paul's grateful heart. He was so aware of being chosen, loved, and forgiven that he had no choice but to proclaim God's goodness. Because of such gratitude, there was no chaining the word of God.

G. K. Chesterton speaks of two exercises well worth pursuing: "It is a good exercise, in empty and ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coal scuttle or the bookcase, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island. But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck" (cf. Orthodoxy, p. 64).

But there is one more exercise, Mr. Chesterton: the exercise of thanksgiving. Thank you, God, for the coal scuttle and the bookcase, for family and friends, for tomatoes and butterflies, for good times and bad, for just about everything.

Ten percent! Where are the other nine? Flannery O'Connor, in her short story "Greenleaf," has this sad line: "Some people learn gratitude too late, Mr. Greenleaf, and some never learn it at all" (329). Catholic worship is essentially a school of gratitude and praise. Every time we gather around the Book and the Altar, we are practicing the discipline of gratitude and that discipline will serve us well.

(Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.)

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