Let there be gratitude — and joy! Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Mar. 10, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday’s Gospel featured a story that we all know well. The minute the “Story of the Prodigal Son” begins, we can say, “Well, I know how this ends,” and instead of paying attention, our minds might wander to one of a thousand different things.

It’s an understandable temptation, but I hope you didn’t do that, because every time we hear that familiar reading, it should be something that hits us very concretely and powerfully, because it turns out to be about you and me. It turns out that the Lord wants to say something to you and me about that reading and through that reading each time, that He has never said before.

Focus on gratitude

Indeed, there are many, many ways to look at those readings, but one of the approaches one could take is the focus on gratitude, or lack thereof, and that’s precisely what struck me this time around.

Now, it’s clear that the younger son was not a grateful son. He was an entitled son. He said to his father, “Give me my share of the inheritance, now!” He wanted what was coming to him-- he felt he was entitled to it.

The younger son presumed that he would outlive his father, and that he would receive an inheritance, and somehow he believed not only that he deserved it, but that he deserved it now. In such a sense of entitlement, there is no gratitude. And with that utter lack of gratitude, off the younger son goes.

As we know from the story, things do not turn out well for the younger son -- except that he learns gratitude and ultimately makes his return to the father. And in a way, that’s everything.

We hear in the story that the younger son knows that he’s not entitled to come back, he’s not entitled to celebration, he doesn’t deserve the ring on his finger or the sandals on his feet. He doesn’t deserve any of that, but the father is giving that to him anyway! And in gratitude, he rejoices!

Never joy without gratitude

This past Sunday was “Laetare,” that is, “rejoice” Sunday and one of the lessons of the Gospel reading is that there is never joy without gratitude. The more we believe we are entitled to things, that we have earned them, and that we deserve them, the less grateful we are going to be, and therefore the less joyful we are going to be in the end.

Now, what about the older son? We know of course that he was a dutiful son, he did not demand his inheritance early, and he stayed to work with his father. But in so doing, we come to see that the older son begins to feel that he is entitled! He feels that he deserves, and has earned, the father’s goodness to him.

So, when the father freely gives an undeserved gift, an undeserved gift to the younger brother, the older brother goes bonkers! The older brother says to his father, “How could you! I’ve been here all my life and you never gave me anything I didn’t deserve. Everything you gave me I earned. Everything you gave me I have a right to!”

The older son was furious at seeing his father give a gift that he did not think was earned. There was no joy there -- the older son had done his duty, and he was miserable.

Working on ourselves

To put it very simply, this story relates not only to our own interior dispositions and lives of virtue, but also to our society at large. I would offer that the United States of America has become a society that feels very entitled to anything and everything. Americans are claiming more rights to different things than one could ever imagine.

And Americans are not joyful, because if you get nothing but what you expect you deserve (and especially if you don’t get all that you think you deserve), there is no joy in that. Joy comes in receiving gifts that are undeserved, like the younger son did, as well as remembering to be grateful for each and every gift.

That being said, there’s little we can do for society as a whole, without first working on ourselves. So, I’d challenge you -- ask yourself about your joy levels day-in and day-out, really deep down.

Do you have the joy that the Lord wants you to have? If you don’t, ask yourself, how grateful am I from day to day and hour to hour? To what extent do we see each and every moment, each and every person, each and every thing in my life as an undeserved gift from the Lord?

To the extent that I am filled with gratitude, I am filled with joy. And to the extent that I think I deserve everything, that I am entitled to everything, that I have rights to whatever I want, there will never be joy.

And that’s why we as a society are not joyful . . . and seem to be becoming less joyful as we enter more deeply into the election season.

As we have marked “joy Sunday,” and as we come soon upon the ultimate cause of our rejoicing -- Christ’s rising from the dead, let there be joy!

Thank you for taking the time to read this column -- I do not take it for granted. Praised be Jesus Christ!