Tuesday, November 10, 2009


First Reading
Wisdom 2:23–3:9

God formed humankind to be imperishable; in the image of his own nature he made them. It is by the envy of the Devil that death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead. Their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble. They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones and his care is with his elect.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 34

R. I will bless the Lord at all times.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.

R. I will bless the Lord at all times.

The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.

R. I will bless the Lord at all times.

When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

R. I will bless the Lord at all times.

Luke 17:7-10

Jesus said to the Apostles: "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done no more than our duty.' "

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St. John Chrysostom wrote: “See how the person gasping for human glory, and performing the works of virtue for that reason, derives no benefit from it. In spite of practicing every kind of virtue he ends up empty-handed and bereft, if he gives himself credit.”

Doing things in order to make a good impression on others used to be called “human respect”. It was badly named, since there is really no respect involved at all, neither for others nor even for oneself. In classic Catholic spirituality, many things were named in rather confusing ways, because they were badly translated from the Latin. The word “respect” comes from “respicere”, which means “to look back”. Here it means checking to see how your presentation is going down with the audience. A better translation might be “trying to make a good impression” or “seeking celebrity”.

There is another trap, not all that different from the first, but one that doesn’t seem at first to be a trap. That is, when I expect thanks for what I’ve done. That has the same external reference as the first, and the same lack of substance: in both cases, if the other person’s response is less than glowing, I lose interest in whatever I was trying to accomplish. Expecting gratitude is certainly a trap, all the more dangerous because it doesn’t look like one.

Jesus tells us that we should not expect thanks. That may seem harsh, but in fact, that is what sets us free. If I expect gratitude, then I am really a beggar. Like a beggar, I can’t purchase what I’m looking for – gratitude; I can only sit and wait, and hope that someone will say “Thank you” to me. I could ask, as any beggar would, but asking spoils this particular commodity. Thanks you have to beg for is not really thanks.

You have heard it said: “Expect nothing, and you can’t be disappointed.” If you are taken for granted, that is actually a sort of compliment. We tend to take most things for granted: we don’t thank the walls of the house for holding up the roof and keeping the weather out. We express no gratitude to the trees or the birds. We don’t thank the well for the water: we turn our backs and walk away, once we have slaked our thirst.

Should children express thanks to their parents? We often hear that they should, but doesn’t that make beggars of the parents? Let the young folks learn to say the polite thing to strangers, but don’t get the idea that they ought to pay you with that kind of small change. Gratitude which is not spontaneous is really not gratitude at all.

Creating no expectations brings tremendous freedom. If we expect nothing in return, we do whatever we do for the right motive: simply, that it is the right thing to do. After the good deed is done, we don’t hang around like beggars waiting for the opportunity to gather a few loose coins. A wise teacher once said that the most perfect form of generosity is when the giver has no idea who the recipient will be, and the receiver doesn’t know who offered the gift. Then the giver is not burdening the receiver with a debt of gratitude, and the receiver can see right through the giver (who is invisible) to God, the ultimate giver.

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