May 14, 2023 1230 Deacon Doug McManaman, Canada

Attitude of Gratitude

What’s the key to joy in this life? If you realize this, your life will never be the same.

There are a number of things that continue to strike me about the story of Christ’s healing of the ten lepers. As we all know, leprosy was a horrible disease that tore victims away from their families and into isolation. “Have pity on us”, they call to Him. And he does. He gives them their lives back. They can return to their families, work again, and worship; the joy they experienced would be incredible. But only one returns to give thanks.

Behind the Gift

I do not intend to judge the nine who did not return, but the one who returned to Jesus understood something very important about “gifts.” When God gives a gift, when He answers a prayer, for example, and we are given some “thing,” some blessing, etc., always contained in that gift is the Person. It is the giving of the Person that is primary, the essential point of a gift; and the ultimate point in receiving the gift is to receive the Person who gives it. Things eventually break down, disintegrate, rust, etc., but the point in receiving a gift is to receive the person who gave it. This is the case for all gifts, but this is especially the case with God; for He gives us gifts because He wants us to receive Him, who will never break down, disintegrate, rust, or decay. The spoiled child takes the gift but fails to recognize the person in the gift, so he’s ungrateful. The leper who returned clearly understood this; he returned in a spirit of gratitude.

The spirit of gratitude is the root of the religious spirit. Our entire life, every moment of it, is a sheer gift. When we look around and see that our lives are filled with His blessings, what is He saying to each one of us individually? He’s saying: “I love you; love me back.” If we don’t discover the Person within and behind the many gifts that surround us, they are not going to mean much after a while. They will “get old,” and we will continue on with life with a restless spirit, always searching for more.

Locked Doors & Block Walls

One of my first assignments after ordination was the Queen Street Mental Health Center (psychiatric hospital), and it really was a wonderful experience. I also had the opportunity to regularly visit a nearby prison.

At the hospital, every unit is a locked unit.  We are given a key to get in, except for one unit in particular. At this unit, patients are a bit more dangerous, so there is no key. Security sees you on camera. They let you in through one door, and once that door closes, the other door is unlocked, and you proceed through. One weekend, I spent a lot of time on that unit, and also on the schizophrenic unit.  After two days of being surrounded by locked steel doors, cinder block walls, security guards, and cameras, I was free to leave, and drive home.

On the highway, 20 minutes into my drive, I looked up at the beautiful sky. Suddenly, I was overcome with a deep sense of joy. It was a profoundly euphoric experience to realize I am free. I could take any exit, stop wherever I wanted, go to a drive thru, buy a coffee or a donut, etc., and no one would stop me, no one would follow me or watch me. I could stop at an empty soccer field, just lie down in the middle of it, and look at the beautiful sky for a while. The rich and beautiful experience of being free struck me like it never had before, and it was a profoundly euphoric experience.

I realized that I take many things for granted. I fail to notice my daily blessings.

It’s an interesting expression: “taking for granted.” It means to fail to notice something, to fail to notice that something has been “given,” and when something is given, there’s a giver, a person, doing the giving. The key to joy in this life is coming to the realization that everything is a sheer gift and becoming aware of the Person that is behind and in the gift, namely God Himself.

Not Fully Understanding

The next significant point in the story of the healing of the ten lepers has to do with the manner of their healing. Jesus said to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (who will then certify that they are clean, so they can return home). But the gospel says they were “healed on the way.” In other words, when Jesus told them to go show yourselves to the priests, they had not been healed as of yet. They were healed “on the way.” Imagine the dilemma. “Why should I show myself to the priest, you haven’t done anything yet. I still have leprosy.” They had to trust, they had to act first, obey first, and only after that are they healed.

That’s how things work with God. We only really come to understand the Lord as a result of choosing to live the faith, to follow him first, to obey him in the dark, so to speak. There is no such thing as coming to understand first, and acting on it after we are assured that we have full understanding. Those who insist on that order always fall away, because they are left without understanding.

We know what God said to us, i.e., keep the commandments. At the Last Supper, he said: “Do this in memory of me.” He also told us not to worry about what you are to wear, eat, or drink. “The Lord knows you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be provided.” (Matthew 6:32-33). If we act first, we will eventually understand; we will be given the light of faith. But most people will not act unless they can be assured there is no risk. Thus, they go through life in the dark, without the joy of really knowing the Lord. Healing follows the decision to act first, even without understanding.


Deacon Doug McManaman

Deacon Doug McManaman is a retired teacher of religion and philosophy in Southern Ontario. He lectures on Catholic education at Niagara University. His courageous and selfless ministry as a deacon is mainly to those who suffer from mental illness.

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