We are so blessed. We are so undeservedly blessed. Every Sunday we gather in this Church to celebrate the great gift that Jesus left us in the Eucharist. We celebrate his presence. We celebrate his love for us. We celebrate that he became “true food and true drink” (cf. Jn 6:55) for us. Yes, we take it for granted at times, even priests, but every now and then we need to stop and give thanks for the great gift that we have in the Eucharist. Giving thanks is at the core of today’s gospel where the leper who was cured returned to Jesus in gratitude. If you read this gospel passage in Greek, you will notice that the word for “giving thanks” in Greek is ευχαριστία (eucharistía) which we translate as eucharist. So what the leper does is what we do every time we approach the altar of the Lord. We approach to give thanks.
This past week I went on my yearly retreat, and I, along with twenty of my brother priests, was blessed to have as my retreat master the retired archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan. All week long, Cardinal Egan tried to impress upon us the importance about emphasizing to all of you how blessed we are to celebrate the Eucharist, to receive such a gift, to be able to take part in this great sacrifice of the Mass. Each day he would begin Mass by reminding us that “Mass is Calvary here with us. Jesus Christ is our Priest and our Victim. We are priests with him in renewing and making sacramentally present again the sacrifice and the wonder of Calvary.” He reminded us that as his priests we take part in bringing Christ to you and the importance of instilling in our faithful a great love for the Eucharist. I have said it time and again that there is no greater act that we do all week that is greater than this divine act of love that we mutually exchange with our God here on this altar. This is why we are blessed because we get to take part in “the wonder of Calvary” which is made present in the Mass. Jesus told his disciples that “many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it (Luke 10:24).” Jesus could have very well been talking to us. We get to hear his Living Word and get to eat this life giving food, his very flesh, every time we gather in this church. This is why we must constantly give thanks. Despite the hardships that we endure out there, we have a place of refuge in here where our Lord becomes present for us, and we have the opportunity, like the leper, to throw ourselves at his feet to give thanks.
Imagine how our world would be if we said “thank you” more often. Imagine if we took this “eucharistic spirit” with us when we left. This morning, as Pope Francis consecrated the Church to the heart of Mary, he talked about the importance of these two simple words: “Saying “thank you” is such an easy thing, and yet so hard! How often do we say “thank you” to one another in our families? These are essential words for our life in common. “Sorry”, “excuse me”, “thank you”. If families can say these three things, they will be fine. “Sorry”, “excuse me”, “thank you”. How often do we say “thank you” in our families? How often do we say “thank you” to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted! This happens with God too. It is easy to approach the Lord to ask for something, but to go and thank him: “Well, I don’t need to”.
Yes, all too often we come to the Lord with a list of grievances, which he is all too happy to attend to, when we should be approaching him first with a spirit of thanksgiving. We should also go out of our way to thank those who help us on the journey as well. I remember in seminary that one of my spiritual directors taught me the importance of the lost art of a hand written thank you note. Not a text, not an email, not a letter, but a hand written note. It’s more personal. It makes us go deeper into our heart to show our gratitude. This is what we must do when we approach the table of the Lord: go deep into our hearts and realize how blessed we are to simply abide in his presence to give him thanks. How blessed our world would be if we approached God and each other more often with those two simple words: thank you.