Gratitude for Life and Gifts

(October 11, 1998)

This Sunday's readings focus our attention on the importance of gratitude. We hear about the Old Testament healing of Naaman the leper. He's so grateful he asks for two mule-loads of dirt so he can offer a sacrifice to the Lord in his own land. Then in the Gospel Jesus heals ten lepers. Only one returns to worship the one who healed him. Jesus tells the man, "Your faith has been your salvation."

Thanking Jesus is important not for his sake. As one of the Prefaces states, "You have no need of our praise, but our desire to thank you is itself your gift." But thanksgiving is our salvation. The starting point is to thank Jesus for the gift of life--our own and the life of those who are dear to us. Something happened these past ten days which brought home to me how precious each human life is, even if that life is very brief.

I was with a family in our parish who suffered the death of their child: only five months old--from conception. This is perhaps the most terrible thing a young mother can suffer--the child she received with such joy and hope inexplicably taken from her. When I went to visit her in the hospital the baby had already died. The mother was in great pain as she and the father awaited the birth process. Fr. Gallagher was with me and we prayed for the parents and for the soul of the baby. I asked her if they had chosen a name for the child. She said if it were a boy, "Jesus," and if a girl, "Sara." Early the next morning she delivered the body of a tiny girl. Because it was October 2nd, the feast of the Guardian Angels, the parents called her, "Sara of the Angels."

The hospital staff knew this was a poor family so they offered to take care of the disposition of the body. The family was uncomfortable with that. I told them our Catholic Cemeteries would donate a plot and we could probably get a Catholic funeral director to help. So the arrangements were made. Sara of the Angels was so small she could fit in the palm of your hand. She weighed only 1 lb., 1 oz., but she was perfectly formed like a beautiful little doll. Tiny hands and feet, a face with some of her grandmother's features.

On Thursday evening the family had a vigil service for her where they read from the Bible and prayed the rosary. The placed a garment over her as well as a scapular and medal. She was buried Friday afternoon afternoon. After the prayers, the father and mother knelt on the ground on either side of the casket. Each placed a hand on it in a minute of silence while the grandmother, uncles and the rest of us looked on. Then each parent kissed the casket as a sign of farewell to their daughter. After Sara's funeral we walked around to look at the other other graves of babies, some from the forties and fifties. One was decorated with flowers and a little pumpkin. The family said they would return with decorations for their child's grave.

Sara of the Angels had a most brief life--but that life was a gift from God. Like every person who comes into the world she has the right to be treated with dignity--to receive a name, a proper burial with prayers and a place to be remembered. (Even in the case of cremation the ashes should be buried in the ground. The spot is then marked with the person's name as a focus for visits and prayers.) One of the terrible things about abortion is that the child does not receive a name, a burial with prayers or a marker.

Life is a gift, every life is a gift from God the Father. Our posture before him is always gratitude. In spite of what sometimes seems so tragic, our salvation comes from faith--and worship. Even tho we often have tears, we lift our eyes to him.

Having said that, I would like to turn from the dramatic example of Sara of the Angels to something more ordinary. But it also is about gratitude. In a few weeks every registered family in the Parish will be receiving a letter from me about thanksgiving for the gifts we have received: time, talent and treasure. I've been individually signing each letter. First of all it helps me learn some names. I'm convinced the Lord will allow me to be pastor of Holy Family for a full twelve years because it will take me that long just to learn one half of the names. But more important, signing the letters is a moment to pray for each of the households of our parish. I know each family has its own set of problems and challenges. But also its share of blessings. One of my primary duties as your pastor is to remind you that those gifts are from God--and to him you will one day give an accounting. We are asking you to use your gifts of time, talent and treasure for good of your brothers and sisters.

We are facing a lot of challenges here at Holy Family. Thanks be to God, we are a dynamic, growing parish. But our facilities are stretched to the maximum. This Thursday evening we will be having a meeting to discuss what directions we should take. Some people say, "Holy Family is a poor parish--and we just have to make do." But that was not the mentality of those who built this parish. That was certainly not Monsignor McGrath's way of thinking when he built this beautiful church back in the 50's. I don't think it is our attitude today. While we keep in mind the needs outside our parish--the missions, the Archdiocese, and so on--we can maintain, improve and even add to our facilities here. Of course help from the outside would be welcome, but we do not need to look somewhere else for the answer to our problems. God has given us every gift of time, talent and treasure that we need.

The challenge is to to be grateful to Jesus for all he has entrusted to us--starting with the gift of life itself. And then to ask, "What can I do to show I am really grateful?" Perhaps like the Samaritan in today's Gospel, gratitude means a change of direction, a walking back to Jesus.

From Archives (28th Sunday, Year C):

2013: Focus on Prayer, Part One: Gratitude
2010: The New Copernican Revolution
2004: Two Classes of Men
2001: Show Yourselves to the Priests
1998: Gratitude for Life and Gifts

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

My bulletin column

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(September 2010)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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Parish Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)

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