October 21, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) on October 13, 2019 after the conclusion of the national convention of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society and at the St. Thomas More Newman Center, both in Columbus, OH. The homily is based on the day’s readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; and Luke 17:11-19.
Today, both the first reading and the gospel tell of people being cured of leprosy, but I don’t think that’s the main point. The focus here is on gratitude. Gratitude and faith are inseparable from one another. That’s especially interesting to note since the emphasis is on the two people being cured who were not Jewish: a Syrian and a Samaritan.
Today, of all days, and in this place, of all places, we have something very specific for which to give thanksgiving. Earlier today, Pope Francis canonized John Henry Newman, the patron of campus ministry… and one of the 15-and-counting patrons of the Paulist Fathers! 1
For the next three weekends, Luke invites us to examine how we pray. In this first week, as we concentrate on gratitude, let’s take a moment to express our thanks to God for his mercy.
I am a member of the Paulist Fathers, the first community of Catholic priests founded in the United States. Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulists, was a spiritual mystic, but he believed that everyone had that same direct access to the Holy Spirit that he had. Apparently, even back in the mid-19th century when Hecker lived, many Americans felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Hecker preached to the people in New York City in 1865, “You say you have no time to pray! Have you time to breathe?… Pray when you rise and dress, pray when you are on the way to work, or to your place of business, or on your return home or before you go to bed.” 2
Hecker insisted that with enough practice, prayer could become as natural as breathing.
I’m still overly busy, but I’m no longer an engineer, and I’m definitely less of a rule-follower than when I was an engineer … at least in some areas of my life. The engineer and rule-follower in me used to struggle with this gospel passage. The other nine people with leprosy didn’t do anything wrong, did they? They followed the directions of Jesus and the Jewish Law (called the Torah): go show yourself to the priest to be declared clean.
There was nothing in the Torah, or in what Jesus said, however, that insisted that the people with leprosy do nothing else before they went to the priest. The Torah only required them to go to the priest before they could return to living with the rest of the community. But Jesus was passing by the town. It wasn’t as natural as breathing to turn around, but it definitely was simpler than rocket science, infrastructure upgrades, or chemical engineering. If the people who were cured didn’t stop what they were doing right then and return, they would never have a chance to express their gratitude to Jesus.
Gratitude only happens when we place something besides ourselves at the center of our concern. The ability to be grateful is a sign of having faith. Faith and gratitude are inseparable. Both require us to have humility, to realize that our concerns are secondary to God’s concerns.
Faith prompts us to pause from our worldly concerns to make time for God. Hmm. What’s another word for “pausing from our worldly concerns to make time for God”? Prayer. For those of us who still struggle to pause, here’s a simple 2-step way to pray:
- Schedule some time, at the same time every day, to be with God.
- For that time period, give thanks to God for all that we have received.
If we would simply express our gratitude to God on a regular basis, perhaps our prayer would soon become as natural to us as breathing. The next two weekends, Luke will give us other insights into prayer, but for day, let’s stick with gratitude.
Here’s one special gift that we should thank God today. A few hours ago, Pope Francis canonized the patron saint of campus ministry, John Henry Newman. How appropriate for us to celebrate here, at a convention of college students from around the country! Newman was an Anglican priest and theologian at Oxford University in England. The more he studied theology, however, the more drawn he was to Roman Catholicism. He became Catholic in 1845 – a year after Hecker became Catholic – and was ordained a priest the next year. Widely known in academic circles, and living in a very anti-Catholic environment in England, Newman was widely criticized and lost his fellowship at Oxford. In Newman’s England – and in Hecker’s America – of the mid-19th century, most Catholics lived in a separate sphere from other Christians, just as Samaritans and Syrians kept themselves separate from Jews. Catholics did not attend non-Catholic universities, and vice versa.
Newman made the case, when most universities in Europe had been secularized, that Catholics should be allowed to mix freely with other people – that Catholics could be open to new ideas in the academic environment and still adhere to their faith. When Catholic students were finally admitted to Oxford in the 1860s, they formed a club that was later named “The Newman Society.”
Today, many secular universities around the world have Newman Clubs, Newman Centers, Newman Societies, or Newman Communities – not to serve as a separate place for Catholic students, but to provide a supportive environment where students can mature in their faith while also maturing alongside their non-Catholic peers in their academic studies and personal development. Some of the pioneers of the Newman movement were the men of my community. Yes! Even though the Paulists Fathers were very involved with the creation and early administration of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, we’ve founded dozens of Newman ministries at secular universities around the country – starting at UC Berkeley in 1907 and probably including roughly one out of every six universities with a Tau Beta Pi chapter! How many of us would be in this room this morning if it weren’t for John Henry Newman and Isaac Hecker?
Newman and Hecker were contemporaries, and because they had very similar ideas about how the Church should interact with society, they became friends and allies. At the time of Hecker’s death, Newman was himself in a decline of health. Nevertheless, Newman found the time to put his own concerns aside to express his gratitude for Hecker. In his condolences to the Paulists, he wrote, “I have ever felt that there was a sort of unity in our lives, that we had both begun a work of the same kind, he in America and I in England.”
Sometimes, in brief biographies of Newman, there seems to be an exclusive focus on his intellectual abilities. However, Newman – like Hecker, like Namaan the Syrian, and like the Samaritan cured of leprosy – Newman was also a person of introspection. His motto was “heart speaks to heart.” Newman was a poet, and he and wrote extensively about the importance of friendships. Here’s a beautiful prayer by John Henry Newman that shows the other-centeredness of thanksgiving:
Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
It will be you who shines through me upon others.
Give light to them as well as to me;
light them with me, through me.
Make me preach you without preaching –
not by words, but by my example
and by the sympathetic influence, of what I do –
by my visible resemblance to Your saints,
and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to you. 3
- The Paulist Fathers are a Missionary Society of Apostolic Life. Missionary societies often have many patron saints, reflecting the various ministries in which they are involved. As of 2014, the Paulists have named 15 patrons, listed in the calendar-year-order of their feast days: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Francis de Sales, Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Patrick, Joseph, Philip Neri, Mary Magdalene, Alphonsus Liguori, John XXIII, John Henry Newman, Teresa of Avila, Isaac Jogues, Mary, and John of the Cross. ↩
- From a sermon entitled, “The Battle of Life,” that Father Hecker preached at the Paulist Mother Church in New York City, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, in 1865. This sermon was published in a Paulist sermon collection in 1866. ↩
- John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions, Part III, VII, 3. ↩