Thursday, November 28, 2013

Paul’s Priorities: Are They Yours?


(Thanksgiving 2013: This homily was given on November 28, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Luke 17: 11-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2013]


Today’s second reading was taken from the very beginning of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  When Jane read it a few moments ago, did you notice anything surprising about it?  Here St. Paul mentions a number of things that he was grateful for (which, of course, makes it a very appropriate text for Thanksgiving Day).

Apparently, when it came to giving thanks, these were what you might call “Paul’s Priorities”.  These were the kinds of things he was most grateful for.

Let me now read the text to you a second time (just in case your memory is as short as mine is and you forgot what Paul said).  He wrote:

“I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice anything surprising there?

What’s surprising—and significant—in that passage (at least I find it both surprising and significant) is that there’s no “stuff” mentioned!

Nothing material!  He doesn’t mention money; he doesn’t mention possessions; nor does he mention physical health.  He doesn’t even mention other people as such.

Whenever Paul rendered thanks to Almighty God, it’s very clear from this text that his “Thanksgiving priorities” were all spiritual!

Tell that to the greedy merchants who are so obsessed with money and “stuff” that they’re now trying to make Thanksgiving just another shopping day before Christmas!  I hope no one here does any Christmas shopping today.

Do not feed into that mentality!

Now please do not misunderstand me here.  I’m not saying that St. Paul was ungrateful for the loving relationships he had with his fellow apostles and the other people in his life; I’m not saying that he was ungrateful for his physical health and his material blessings.

In other places in his letters he makes it quite clear that he was thankful for EVERYTHING that the Lord had given him here on earth.

But he also had his priorities straight!  He knew what was most important!  He talks in this passage about the grace of forgiveness and salvation; he talks about knowing the truth of the Gospel and witnessing to it; he talks about spiritual gifts (the most important of which are faith, hope and charity); and he talks about the fact that God will always offer us the grace that we need to persevere in our relationship with Jesus so that we can get to heaven someday.

That’s what St. Paul was most grateful for in his own life, and in the lives of the Corinthian people.

And it’s what we should be most grateful for in our lives.

If you’re like me, you sometimes forget that—which is why I mention it in this homily.

Yes, we all have a lot to be grateful for in our earthly lives—but the sad reality is that much of it is only temporary.  Our money eventually gets spent (too quickly for a lot of us these days!); our possessions “rust and corrode,” as Jesus indicates in the Sermon on the Mount; our health deteriorates over time (those of us with chronic illnesses certainly know that); and our loved ones pass away as the years go by.

However, as the very same St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 13, “Faith, hope and love” last!  They last until the end. 

And after “the end” they bring us into a life that will never end!

So they are what’s most important!  They (faith, hope, love—and everything that proceeds from them) are what we should be the most grateful for—both on Thanksgiving Day and on every other day of the year.

I hope the healed leper in today’s gospel realized this and consequently said a second thank you to Jesus!  We know he came back to our Lord to thank him once for his physical healing (which is, of course, exactly what he should have done).  But after Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you,” this cured Samaritan should have said another thank you to our Lord, for imparting to him the grace of forgiveness and salvation.

And hopefully he was even more grateful for those spiritual gifts than he was for his physical cure from leprosy, since those spiritual gifts had the potential to bring him blessings that would far outlast the blessing of perfect physical health!

His physical health eventually ended and he died.  We know that because no one has seen this healed leper walking around Westerly or anywhere else on planet earth for almost 2,000 years.  But when this man did die (probably sometime in the mid-to-late first century), his gift of faith—if he had persevered in it—yielded a reward that is still going on as we speak.

And it will go on forever.

If you are leading your family in saying grace at Thanksgiving dinner later today, I ask you to try to remember this lesson and apply it to the prayer you say.  Begin your prayer of thanks by expressing your gratitude to God for his saving grace: for the love and mercy he has shown us in sending us his Son.  Thank the Lord for his faithfulness (like Paul did), and for his promise to help you persevere in faith when times get difficult.  Then move on to thank him for the people he has put in your life—especially those you take for granted—and for the many blessings that have come into your life through those people.

And then, finally, feel free to thank God for your “stuff”—for all the material blessings that he’s showered upon you and upon your loved ones.

Oh yes, one last thing.  At the very end of the prayer, don’t forget to do what I forgot to do one Thanksgiving: After saying this beautiful and meaningful prayer, don’t forget to ask the Lord to bless the food!