Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Homily for the School Community

            The way we become truly seen and heard and known by others is by sincerely expressing our gratitude. The healed Samaritan leper illustrates this when he returns to Jesus to say thanks. Of the ten lepers, he is the one Jesus remembers. Perhaps the others were grateful, but they did not make gratitude into an action like this foreigner did. He teaches us a valuable lesson as our Year of Mercy comes to an end. Gratitude and mercy are forever linked.
            Pope Francis wrote yesterday: “Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the church; it constitutes the church’s very existence.” Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person, and gratitude is the ultimate acceptance we can give the person who bothers to enter into our chaos. For the leper, Jesus made himself vulnerable; he placed himself at great risk of catching a dreadful disease ten times by touching and healing these men. When we touch the pain of another person, we make ourselves radically vulnerable because our hearts get touched by the brokenness we encounter. Anyone who has been through a KAIROS retreat has experienced this? Stand please? Faculty/staff? These people know what it is like to receive the love of God through another person and to express that care back to the soul in front of them. We accept mercy that we do not deserve. This return of love is what we call Thanksgiving. From the depths of our soul, we are seen, heard, and known by someone who takes time to hear our stories. That is what we all want. We want to belong. We want to be meaningful to someone else and to ourselves. We live KAIROS and it guides our actions. We live the Fourth.
            Our gratitude brings us to today’s events. We have collected food and donated money so others may experience an enriched holiday. We want those who are less fortunate to have a meaningful day and we want to erase the divisions that exist among us, especially the class divisions, because poverty is all about class. Who are the poor? It is a dangerous question to answer. We cannot see the poor as people in a separate category from us because we implicitly put up walls and barriers – and in our church, we do not build walls or condone the building of walls. We tear them down, and we diligently stand up against those who try to construct them. As a community of faith, we will do everything possible to eradicate discrimination and injustice regardless of gender, orientation, race, ability, or class, and we will combat bullying and destructive words with acts of charity and kindness. Not in my church! Not in our church! But back to the question: Who are the poor? The poor are the ones who need mercy, and that is all of us. We are the poor. We are in this together as brother and sister and we cannot let barriers exist among us. The poor are not outside these doors. The poor are not around us. We are the poor, and, even though some of us may have financial means, we give out of our poverty because we are grateful to God for what has been given to us.
            How do we approach this issue of poverty? We make it local, personal, and we do it by deliberately expressing our gratitude through mercy. We cannot end world poverty, but we can recognize those around us who are working so hard for our benefit. This eases poverty and builds bridges. Feeling thankful and saying “Thank you” are very different. To look into the eyes of our parents, stepparents, or guardians and to say, “Thank you, and I love you” is an act of mercy. We may feel resistant because we want our independence or we are too old to say such mushy words, but the effects it has on your parents is tremendous. Their hearts overflow with joy because their son/child recognizes the tireless love they give you each day. Your words of hope and care will sustain them through their challenging times. Ask any KAIROS graduate of this truth. They will simply smile, say ‘yes’, and will invite you to make the retreat. They get the mission. They understand that this is the mission of Jesus.
            You are the center of your universe, but saying “thank you” gets you out of your solitary universe and lets you into the universe of another soul. Gratitude shifts us from looking at ourselves to a place where we gently, unobtrusively enter into the chaos of another person. We behold another’s story and hold up it up in reverence and awe and we are forever changed – bonded to the other person who became vulnerable to us. And we get mercy we do not deserve, and we need to express our thanks.
            Find some time this week to acknowledge someone’s efforts to provide for you. Be creative in how you do it. You can honor a teacher by saying to yourself, “I am going to find something worthwhile in this homework assignment. I’m going to look for some interesting aspect of it” and then share with your teacher what you discovered. Or you can give thanks by silently, attentively appreciating the wisdom, the style, and the tone of a particular teacher so that you are amazed by the teacher in front of you who is a pure gift. We honor the other person when we listen to understand and be enriched. Or you can honor a classmate by not telling a joke or saying something funny – because most jokes are hurtful at their core. Instead of the joke, replace it with positive statement, and then watch how your friend’s esteem is magnified with your appreciation of him. And set aside some time for your brothers and sisters, especially the younger ones, even when they annoy you, because they are seeking your attention because they like you a whole lot and want you to see and know and hear them. You are important to them. Schedule a date with them for some play and recreation. You’ll notice how expectant they are because you have decided to willingly enter into their chaos – because you like them. Being with others is far more important that doing for others. All good things will happen because of this. Watch and be amazed.

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            These are small steps, but they bring about bonds that prevent greater divisions from occurring. Reach out, even though it may be uncomfortable, and speak the words in your heart. With practice, it gets easier, and you then become known as a silent person of transformative power – with real power to change the world – simply because you bothered enough to be a part of someone else’s world. Thank you for giving yourself to your education and formation. Thank you, teachers, staff, and administrators, for being a community of faith dedicated to a brighter future. Thank you, brother Jesuits, for your example of self-giving service. Thank you, Lord of Heaven and Earth, for making us poor and in need of your mercy. We do not deserve it, but that is why our hearts turn to you in great thanks. Bless us, Lord. Bless us all. Make us one in your mercy.