Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Gratitude
Saying "thank you" is one thing; meaning it is another. There is so much in life that we take for granted. Our readings today remind us that gratitude has frequently been the missing factor in religious relationships.

Isaiah 5: 1-7: This reading provides the background for the Gospel reading where Christ compares the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard promised as an inheritance, but rejected by an ungrateful generation.

Philippians 4:6-9: St. Paul constantly urges those who would be Christian - disciples of Christ - to recognise their origins and to be grateful- " ask God with prayer and thanksgiving .... and the peace of God will be with you".

Matthew 21:33-43: It is in today's reading from St. Matthew that we encounter the depths of ingratitude and selfishness and the warning of the ultimate punishment for those who are ungrateful - the kingdom will be taken from those to whom it had been promised and given to others more worthy.

Point 1: One of the more constant irritants in anyone's life is 'to be taken for granted'. How often, in the average family, do parents in the early stages of their children's education ask of them "and what do you say?" or "did I hear you say 'thank you'?" How often do we hear of husbands and wives accusing each other of "taking me for granted"! We live in times when so many things earlier generations regarded as privilege and for which they were grateful, are now expected as 'rights'. But even 'rights' that have been earned by effort and sacrifice should not be taken for granted. Throughout the year, every country has its national days when its citizens are called on to give thanks for the efforts of earlier generations. Despite the fact, however, that gratitude is so essentially a part of human relationships, we do not find it easy to say "thank you".. Those who are familiar with the writings of Shakespeare are constantly amazed at his understanding of human nature. And with regard to this subject of gratitude, he frequently refers to the hurt that is felt when it is absent. In his "King Lear", for example, he records the reproach of the father, King Lear, to his ungrateful daughters -"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is/ To have a thankless child". In "As You Like It" he compares gratitude to a 'winter's wind' -"Blow, blow, thou winter wind; Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude". And probably the best remembered condemnation of ingratitude is that uttered by Caesar to Brutus -"Et tu, Brute"; for here we encounter the ultimate depths of ingratitude where loyalty and fidelity have been abandoned.

Point 2: Gratitude is a very essential component of the human make-up. It is even more so a part of the Christian response. The seeds of our Christian tradition are to be found in the earlier traditions of Judaism - a religion of receiving in which God was the giver. It is from this tradition that one of our favourite expressions - "Thank God" - has derived. We don't always understand what we are saying, but we continue to say it! In its early stages of development, the Judaic tradition acknowledged that everything that people are and have comes from Him 'our creation and redemption and all the blessings of life'. It is because people had departed from this understanding that today's first reading is written. The Israelites had become complacent. They had forgotten the Covenant; they had prostituted the Law; and the Temple was no longer the house of Jahwe, but a market place. It had been around these three factors that the Jewish culture had been built, but, now, where justice had been expected only bloodshed had been found; where integrity was needed, only cries of distress were heard. Hence the Prophet's lament - what more could I have done - and the expression of God's anger - I will lay it waste....The New Testament constantly urges those who would be Christian - disciples of Christ - to recognise their origins and to be grateful.

Conclusion: Our thoughts today, then, should be that gratitude must be a distinctive feature of our lives as Christians - gratitude to God and gratitude to those around us. It should be a constant in our lives; not simply an aspect that we occasionally remember and more frequently forget or ignore. At the heart of the worship of the church is the best of all forms of worship - the Mass. Another name for the Mass is the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning 'thanksgiving'. I think we would all like to be considered to be grateful people, because gratitude is a lovely habit of mind; but, like all habits, it only becomes perfect through practice.

Scriptural reference: [Col 3:15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.