Last Monday, the Gospel reading was about the centurion (Luke 7:1-10) who interceded for his slave. It is interesting to note that this centurion was an outsider among the Jewish community. A perfect candidate to be hated, being the Roman conqueror and an officer at that. As the story unravels, though, he defies all expectations or stereotypes. He is the kindest person you could meet. He helps the Jewish community and goes out of his way to plead for the healing of his slave. Talking about genuine kindness and humility, this centurion is worth emulating.
I was sharing in my homily that day how, in praying for others, especially for healing, it seems I have a hidden agenda. I have this simple belief that when we pray for others, we somehow share in the grace which we ask for others. Not a bad thought, but the selfless concern and humility of this centurion unmask my impure motivations.
The centurion is a good reminder to us that there is no such thing as entitlement and what really matters is our selflessness that comes from a deep sense of humility, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof . . . but say the word and let my servant be healed.” How many of us beg for others and acknowledge our unworthiness in the process?
This Sunday’s Gospel is another good reminder that in the economy of grace there is no such thing as entitlement. Grace is freely given, yet grace is given to the humble, those who ask selflessly and humbly. As Robert Johnson puts it, “. . . the Grace of God is always available but man must ask for it before it is effective . . . The meaning of life is not in the quest for one’s own power or enhancement but lies in the service of that which is greater than one’s self. . .” (from “Fisher King and the Handless Maiden”)
Let me take a different approach in reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel. Let me propose a process of reflection: counting our blessings, giving thanks, offering back, and loving and serving.
The “sin” to which our attention is called in this Sunday’s Gospel is that of a sense of entitlement or, in daily Pinoy parlance, “feeling.” One way or another, many of us fall into this trap. Extreme cases are superstars and prima donnas who always want center stage and not just center stage, but center stage all to themselves. There are those who can be very giving and even self-effacing, but once you hit their weak or blind spot then the superstar or prima donna comes out. The normal reaction we have when this happens is, “Where did that come from?” The other end of the spectrum is what our novice master used to call “huwag-na-pa,” those with false modesty; almost like a “Far Side” cartoon of a seemingly humble person with the thought bubble or shadow of an egotistical person.
I always feel and think that the best way to counter ego is by living in gratitude, a life of thanksgiving, a grateful heart. The entry point to this is learning to constantly count our blessings. If we are to honestly weigh all things at any given point in our life, there is more to be thankful for than feel sorry about. Even during moments when we are down, if we will step back and regain perspective, there will still be more blessings to be grateful for than the “curses” that burden us.
Counting our blessings, always sensing God’s presence in all things, as Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, would often say, discover God’s extraordinary grace in the ordinary things of our life. This will naturally lead us to humility. Gratitude very peacefully and naturally reminds us that we do not deserve what we have or what we were given. In a way that heals us, reintegrates us and makes us whole again, gratitude makes us realize that everything is grace. There is nothing more humbling than realizing that everything in life is gift; that we are not entitled to anything.
The natural response of a grateful person is to give back or, as Ignatius of Loyola beautifully puts it, “returning love for love—amor con amor se paga con amor.” This is the deepest sense of giving thanks, when we offer in return with great love.
Offering back is returning the gift we are given, returning love for love. One of the exercises I ask couples preparing for marriage to do is to count their blessings and bring themselves to a sense of gratitude. I ask them to reflect on this simple reality that authentic commitment that hopes to last for a lifetime is best started from a deep sense of gratitude; saying to one’s self, “I have been given so much and out of gratitude I now give back in return.”
In the simplicity of this realization, we are humbled. We are humbled that we are not entitled yet we are blessed in abundance. We are liberated from self-centeredness in order to embrace others freely and lovingly. We are grateful for the chance to simply come face to face with our self and our God to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof . . . but say the word and let my servant—let me, your servant—be healed.” We are grateful as we are healed and return love for love.
It is a reintegration, a rediscovery of our hidden wholeness. It is in the integrity of who we are stripped to our core that we hopefully discover—or rediscover—that there lies the desire simply to love and to serve. This is the story of the centurion. Humbly acknowledging his unworthiness and with great faith and hope in God’s love humbly begging for healing—for others.
The UAAP basketball season is about to end. In less than two weeks either Ateneo earns a “four-peat” or FEU or Adamson wears the crown. In the first game of Ateneo against Adamson, I believe, the much-awaited rookie ended up with a disappointing debut performance. Then in the following game, against La Salle, he gave a sterling performance that certainly did not disappoint all the hype.
After the second game, I asked him what went on in his mind and heart and how he overcame the disappointment of the first game. I was preparing for a session with public school principals, supervisors and teachers and I wanted to use him as an example of overcoming adversity. I asked permission from him to use his response, verbatim, as an example. I share this with you to end.
“I just believed in myself. Believed in what I’m capable of doing. I just gave myself to God. I cannot ask God for favors because that’s the same thing the other team was probably doing. ‘Lord, sana manalo kami. Lord, sana maganda ilaro ko.’ God favors those who will dedicate themselves to what they want to do.”
For a young man given so much attention—and with good reason—this is very edifying for us adults and hopefully for many young people. This is a teacher’s dream student—no sense of entitlement, yet with a realistic and healthy knowledge of self. “I just gave myself to God.” Amen.