Sunday, October 14, 2007

If You Could Change One Thing About Yourself, What Would It Be?

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 14, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Timothy 2: 8-13; Luke 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2007]

The new billboard on Main St., which advertises the services of Dr. Kevin Maguire, a local plastic surgeon, has upset many people in our community—and understandably so.

But even if you think the billboard is inappropriate—even if you think it borders on the pornographic—you have to admit that the question Dr. Maguire asks on the top of it is a very good one. It reads, “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”

As a plastic surgeon, of course, he wants everyone to read that sign, go home, look in the mirror, and take note of everything on their body that needs to be nipped, tucked, sliced, diced or reshaped in some way.

But notice, the question doesn’t state, “If you could change one thing about your BODY, what would it be?” The question says, “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”

So strictly speaking, as it’s written on the billboard, it applies to more than just our physical imperfections.

Let me now ask those of you who have seen the sign: When you first read Dr. Maguire’s question, what did you think of? What was the FIRST thought you had? Did you think of your wrinkles and aging flesh? Or did you think of something on the inside?—some aspect, in other words, of your personality and character that needs to be changed for the better?

The truly spiritual person would always think of the inside first!—because the truly spiritual person knows that what’s on the inside is ultimately much more important that what’s on the outside. What’s on the outside will eventually shrivel up and die (even with the best plastic surgery!), but what’s on the inside will endure forever! Our Catholic faith teaches us very clearly that we take what’s inside of us with us into eternity; in fact, what’s inside of us—what’s inside our heart—ultimately determines where we will live for all eternity! That’s why St. Paul indicates in today’s second reading that our salvation is conditional (notice all the “ifs” in the text!): the condition is that we have the right dispositions of heart on the inside—like faithfulness and perseverance—which lead to the right actions.

The bottom line is that truly spiritual person knows himself! And because he knows himself, he knows that allowing his heart to be changed is much more important than modifying his physical appearance. The obvious conclusion of all this is that the nine lepers in today’s Gospel story from Luke 17—the nine who failed to come back to thank Jesus after he healed them—did NOT know themselves very well! And that’s extremely easy to demonstrate. You see, if you had spoken to these 9 men the day BEFORE Jesus healed them, and you had asked them Dr. Maguire’s question, “Gentlemen, if you could change one thing about yourselves, what would it be?” I’m sure they all would have answered, “Why, of course, we would change our physical condition! We would get rid of this terrible scourge of leprosy! We would become physically healthy again!”

But that was not their greatest need, as the story illustrates! That was not the most important change that needed to take place in their lives! Without a doubt, their greatest need was internal, not physical! By their failure to come back and thank Jesus after he had taken away their disease, they clearly showed that their greatest need—or at least one of their greatest needs—was gratitude! They needed to be more thankful for their blessings, and more willing to express that thanks to others.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? What would you ask for?

Would you ask for more gratitude? Or for more patience? Or for a greater willingness to forgive others? Would you ask for the ability to stop gossiping or swearing or lying? Would you ask to be set free from an addiction to pornography or alcohol or gambling?

Lord Jesus, there are many changes that we need to make in our lives because we are weak and imperfect human beings. Help us to recognize the ones that are most necessary—the ones on the inside. Help us to believe that making these changes is possible over time with the help of your powerful grace. And help us to be open to that grace when it comes to us, especially in the Holy Eucharist. Amen.