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October 13, 2013

A number of years ago when I was in grade 10, I accompanied a medical team to a tiny mountain village. Life in that village was primitive. Most of children had no clothes and were inadequately fed. The houses, built right on the ground, were made from old lumber, cardboard and banana leaves. The medical team vaccinated the villagers against polio, measles and other kinds of diseases.

By the end of the first week of work, I started feeling sorry, even guilty, for the conditions these people lived in. I became homesick and depressed. One night I was sitting outside in the dark. I was thinking about my home, my family, my friends, and why I had volunteered. I asked myself why people had to live like this. Whose fault was it? Why did God permit it?

Then I heard someone in the darkness. It was Joseph, a local schoolteacher, and the father of a family of five. He sat down next to me and stared up at the sky. After a minute or so, he broke the silence saying, "Isn't that great?" I questioned what he said. He repeated, "Isn't that great, all that God has given us." His eyes were still staring up at the sky. At that moment I noticed that the sky was lit up with millions of stars. I wondered how a father of a poor family, living in a poor condition, in a poor village, could enjoy the stars on the sky which God has created. As we moved on next day to the end of the village, where the lepers lived, I had a big smile on my face. I enjoyed serving, washing and bandaging the wounds of the lepers and my depression had gone. All feeling of sorry had gone. It was an experience, it was a lesson I will never forget.

I tell you this story because I see two important points in it. First, if children grow up to be ungrateful it is probably because they were never taught to be grateful. The man in my story had taught me to be grateful even in a poor condition by his gratitude to God. Gratitude is something we can learn from others, from our friends, our parents, our teachers, our society, and our church.

Secondly, the story recalls the two groups of people in the Gospel of this Sunday: those who are grateful for God's gifts to them and those who are not. The Samaritan in the eyes of the Jews is a pagan. Being both Samaritan and leper means non-human. But he, the Samaritan, after being cured, returns to offer glory to God and says thanks to Jesus.

To which group of people do we belong? Do we belong to those who are grateful, like the Samaritan? Or do we belong to those who are ungrateful like the other nine lepers? Many times we take things for granted. My parents have to take care of me. My teachers have to teach me. My friends have to help me. Society has to provide a good environment to me. Some of us have never appreciated what those people, society and the Church have done for us.

One day I visited a leprosy colony, I met a young man, 19 years old, who had that dreadful disease and got healed. He lost a half of his right foot and the corner of his upper lip. I asked him why he didn’t go back home after healing. He said that he was so grateful to God for the cure so he stayed in the colony making sandals out of used tires for other lepers. He was so skilful and in an hour he even made me a pair of sandals! I still keep in touch with the colony and send a little fund to them yearly.

This week we had 4 Thanksgiving Masses with our Catholic schools. It was a joy to have students in church but it was also a pain to see that many don’t take Eucharist seriously. Our assembly for the Eucharist (the word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving”) is an occasion for gratitude to God, for numberless benefits, great and small, for life itself and all its opportunities, for faith and the promise of salvation, for relatives and friends, health and employment, the Cross of Christ, the forgiveness of sins and salvation. Like Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper, we intend to express gratitude through a worthy sacrifice, offered in worshipful praise.