What have the Romans ever done for us?

Luke 17.11-19   Ten Lepers are healed by Jesus, but only one returns to give thanks

While I was on my travels around Spain recently,  I visited the city of Badajoz, where I passed a model shop, and in the shop window was a large model submarine. Badajoz is a long way from the sea, and most people there live in small flats. I doubt if many had the room for a large model submarine. I wonder how many children passing by the Model Shop of Badajoz pressed their noses against the shop window and pleaded with their parents, ‘I want a submarine!’

In general, children have little difficulty in telling their parents what they want. However when a child is given something, the parents may well have to prompt the child with the question  ‘what do you say?’ in order to elicit a thank you. I wonder if that means that asking for things comes naturally to us, while be thankful for them does not?

Thank you is such an important expression. Although Jesus said that a servant should not expect to be thanked for doing his job, it must be admitted that one small  ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

I enjoy listening to Paul O’Grady on the wireless on Sunday afternoons. He asks people to write in to nominate people they think deserve to be specially thanked for their kindness. It makes a refreshing change from the radio phone-in’s inviting people to ring in to complain.

To be in a state of grace, means to enjoy the most intimate sense of communion with God, an experience of union with Him. Such a state of grace was enjoyed by saints such as St Teresa whose feast day we celebrate next Tuesday. Teresa described one intense religious experience in which it seemed as though an angel was piercing her insides with a flaming dart, such was the intensity of God’s love that she felt.  This is famously depicted in a sculpture by Bernini in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

Such a degree of religious ecstasy will be beyond most of us ordinary mortals but there is a very simple way for the ordinary Christian to attain a state of grace. And that is by living in state of perpetual thankfulness. The Latin word for thanks is after all gratias.  From it the Italians takes take their word grazie and the Spanish gracias.

To be thankful is to be in such a blissful state that you appreciate everything around you. To be thankful is to be close to God. That is why we are here Sunday after Sunday not just to say to God in our prayers, ‘I want’ but more importantly ‘thank you,’ summed up supremely in the Eucharistic Prayer, the great prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to emulate the Samaritan leper who threw himself at the feet of Jesus praising God and thanking Jesus for what had been done for him.

When things go wrong, when events do not turn out as we have hoped it is all too easy to fall out of this state of thankfulness. We have to be careful not to slip into a mire of regret. No matter how bad life seems, we must not stop being thankful. We may more easily be able to point out what is wrong, what is missing, what is not as it should be, but we must be thankful for what we do have. Otherwise we are not fully inhabiting the real world of the present, we are living restricted, inhibited lives.

Jesus told the Samaritan leper that his faith had saved him. He had been set free, not least through his recognition that his healing had come from God who is always deserving of praise. Being thankful is a liberation, it releases our souls to commune with God. It is not always easy to get to this state, we may well have to work at it. The simplest way is to count our blessings. When we are displeased with something can we find the positive in it?

The old song reminds to:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings see what God has done.

Sometimes when  I start brooding and complaining to myself about everything, I ask myself if I am becoming like Reg. I think of the scene in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, in which the terrorist group, the People’s Front of Judea, are plotting to kidnap Pilate’s wife. The leader, Reg, tries to whip them up into state of frenzy by asking, ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ Instead of shouting back 'nothing!', the members start to offer answers. Finally Reg is forced to revise his question again, ‘ apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation,  roads, a  fresh water system, and  public health what have the Romans done for us?'  

May the Lord open our eyes to perceive our blessings and be thankful.