Endless gratitude

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. - The Philippine Star

In today’s  Gospel reading (Lk. 17:11-19), Jesus was passing through a village when ten suffering isolated lepers begged for his mercy to cure them. Filled with compassion, Jesus instructed them to go to the priests, and on their way, all of them were miraculously cured. But out of the ten, only one, the lone Samaritan at that, came back and expressed his heartfelt gratitude and praise to Jesus. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (vv. 17-18).

Gratitude is a way of returning love for love. Each one of us is created out of God’s infinite love, through health and sickness, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, success and failure, until death. God the Holy Spirit is our constant companion through it all.

Still in the context of leprosy, allow me to share an experience that happened years ago, which I had written about somewhere else. We conducted a live-out Marriage Encounter Weekend for cured, negative lepers in Tala, outside the leprosarium proper. Among the participants was this young, educated couple. The husband had been a student at the University of the Philippines and an activist during the First Quarter Storm when he contracted leprosy. He got so angry at God because in spite of what he was doing for his country, this was what he was given in return! He stopped praying and going to Mass. He was initially confined at Tala Leprosarium for his recovery. Since the sickness was arrested at its early stage, there was no trace of disfigurement on his face and hands. In the leprosarium, he met a young, female teacher (not a leper) from a school in San Juan who used to go there with some students to give food and gifts to the patients. To make the long story short, the two fell in love with each other in due time. Against the advice of her family and friends, the teacher and the healed leper decided to marry each other. At the time when they took the Marriage Encounter Weekend, they already had two children and were living with the negative lepers’ community outside the leprosarium, and he was gainly employed. What struck me in his sharing during the final Mass was a revelation that came from his heart: “Had I not contracted leprosy, I would not have met my beautiful and loving wife. Lord, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

It is this profound sentiment of gratitude that fills my heart, not only for the past years, but especially at this point in my life, in my early eighties, no less. I am still able to teach, do pastoral counseling, give talks and seminars, and minister the Sacraments. Lord, please accept my never-ending gratitude for calling me to the priesthood!

This was not my plan after finishing my college degree, until I accidentally read an article about the Jesuits written by the late Fr. James Reuter, S. J. After almost a year of spiritual direction and guided discernment, I came to the decision to formally apply to the Society of Jesus. My parents were visibly shocked when I shared this with them. My mother started to shed tears. But after a while, my father spoke with words that I will never forget: “Hijo, kung iyan ang ikaliligaya mo, hindi kami hahadlang sa iyo.” They then gave me their blessing, a human manifestation of God’s love beyond personal preferences and desires. Soon after my entrance to the novitiate, my parents could not stop sharing with our relatives and friends how blessed they were for having a son who would be a priest someday. And after my ordination, throughout the years that followed, I was able to minister to them in so many ways as their priest-son, all the way to Last Sacraments at their respective deathbeds. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you!

Moving now from the personal to the national level, I invite our readers not to fail in expressing through word and action our continuing gratitude to the Lord in caring for us and our country, in His own way and time. Let us go back to the year 1986. The power of active non-violence succeeded in ending that unjust, inhuman martial law regime. We could not have done such an incredible miracle without God’s presence and support. The passive endurance under those twenty years of dictatorship turned into active endurance in guarding the ballot boxes after the February 7 elections and at the human barricades during the revolution at Edsa. The rest of the world looked up to us with great admiration. Thank you, Jesus, thank you!

But human as we are, after more than a decade later, a corruption-ridden administration took advantage of our people again. God’s loving mercy, however, made pakialam once again, and with profound gratitude, we moved on with trust and confidence. That was in 2001.

It is now 2013, and the power of mammon over certain persons who are spiritually weak is just incredible. As Christ Himself said: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6: 24). Today, this is at the very core of the multi-billion pork barrel scam and related corruption issues. Mammon.

So let us continue our active efforts in being faithful to God. Let us be courageous and fearless in word and action, like our whistle-blowers who did what they did at the risk of their own lives. Out of profound gratitude for all that God has done, is doing, and will be doing for us, His beloved sons and daughters, let us be constantly and absolutely sure that we are serving Him and not mammon.

Salamat, Panginoon, Salamat!

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