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Voices Online Edition
December 1998
Volume XIII, No. 4

Bishop Joseph Naumann
"We do well always and everywhere to give you thanks"

Following are excerpts from Bishop Naumann's homily given at Mass at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (The Old Cathedral), the closing event of the 1998 Women for Faith & Family Conference.

In a few moments I will say to you what the Celebrant at Mass always says to the Congregation: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God". And you will reply: "It is right to give him thanks and praise." I will then begin the Eucharistic Prayer with the introductory sentence for all Prefaces: "We do well always and everywhere to give you thanks". These words, because we say them so often, because they are so familiar, routinely trip off our tongues. Yet these words express a truth that is at the heart of the Christian experience....

Our Gospel passage [Luke 17:12-19; only one of ten cured lepers returned to thank Jesus] reminds us how difficult it is to give thanks even when the most remarkable blessings have occurred in our lives. It seems incomprehensible that nine out of ten, after having experienced a cure from the most devastating of terminal diseases, would fail to give thanks.

At the heart of our Christian belief, is that we have each received a spiritual healing far greater and more significant than the one given to the lepers that Jesus encountered on the border of Samaria and Galilee.

Several years ago I happened upon a book entitled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, coauthored by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy. The entire book is a meditation on the wonder of the human body and an extrapolation of Saint Paul's analogy of the Church as the Body of Christ.... Dr. Brand and Mr. Yancy... recognize a parallel between the way diseases attack the body and the impact of sin in the life of the Christian and in the life of the Church. Dr. Brand describes cancer as the body in rebellion against itself.... Sin is a rebellion against God, but it is also a rebellion against our human nature. We are designed to live in union with God and to share love and life with others....

Dr. Brand writes: "As I studied leprosy patients in India several findings pushed me toward a rather simple theory: could it be that the horrible results of the disease came about because leprosy patients had lost the sense of pain? The disease was not at all like a flesh-devouring fungus; rather it attacked mainly a single type of cell, the nerve cell. After years of testing and observation, I felt sure that the theory was sound".

The loss of a sense of pain allows the body to maim itself without even being aware the destruction is taking place. This image of the physical consequences of leprosy has many points of comparison with the effect of sin on our lives.

In our own time we often talk about the loss of a sense of sin. In reality, we are often talking about a loss of a sense of guilt or a deadening of our conscience. Much like the sense of pain alerting us to remove our hand from the hot stove, guilt is a protective feeling that alerts us to the fact that spiritually we are in a perilous situation. It is a spiritual warning system alerting us to danger.

When our consciences are dulled and our ability to distinguish good from evil impaired then we are in grave danger, because we are virtually defenseless. The Holy Father in his Encyclical the Gospel of Life talks about the seriousness of our present condition when the crimes against life are no longer even perceived as evil, but rather exalted as rights and freedoms.

[The dull conscience] leads us into self-destructive activities that not only harm us but also harm those around us.... We see the results everywhere in our society. We see it in the recent presidential scandal.... We see it in a nation where we cannot reach a sufficient consensus among our legislators to over-ride a presidential veto to ban the barbarous procedure of partial-birth abortion ... [and] in the efforts to legalize assisted suicide. We no longer respond to pain by attempting to eliminate or reduce the pain and, when that is not possible, to surround the one suffering with a community of love. The solution proposed today is simply to eliminate the sufferer.... We see its effect in the prevalence of divorce ... broken homes ... dysfunctional families ... violence that erupts in our schools.

It is with full realization of all these problems, some of which touch us personally and all of which impact the society in which we live that we are challenged "always and everywhere to give thanks!"

Returning to this morning's gospel, we are called to give thanks not after the healing, but even as we contend with our sin, from our spiritual leprosy. It is precisely in a world that is a mess and a Church in its humanity that is far from perfect that we are called to give thanks and praise ... [which is] possible only through the grace of the Holy Spirit. For as Saint Paul discovered long ago, it is in our weakness that the power of God is most clearly evident. It is the Holy Spirit that opens our hearts to accept the truth of God's love as revealed in Jesus Christ a love that is available to us despite all our weakness, all our frailty.

Yes, it is right that we always and everywhere give thanks to our God!

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