Throughout the various liturgical seasons and reading cycles, the Church has gifted us with unique opportunities to reflect, repent, make preparations, renew, and most importantly, change our hearts. Every Sunday, the Word of God is broken open for all who want to hear, and as Jesus proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). The Word pierces our hearts; “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Is 35:5-6). As we journey through the various liturgical seasons, we are constantly reminded of God’s boundless love, mercy, and compassion. Such is the most important journey of our lives; a pilgrimage to our Heavenly Father’s house. Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (Jn 14:6). This path, though windy and challenging, is the way that leads us home.
As we begin our Lenten journey this week, we walk with gratitude. Walking with gratitude implies two commitments: We remember, we believe. Firstly, we remember the goodness and steadfastness of the Lord (ref. Dt 26 4-10). Then, we are reminded that our faith propels us to confess that Jesus, whom “God raised from the dead”, is Lord (Rm 10:9). Finally, the Gospel of Luke reveals that God is our everything (ref. Lk 4:1-13).
The first reading teaches us the beauty of gratitude. How should we give thanks to God? Moses has laid down a simple road map: first, in remembering God’s goodness of how He has single-handedly freed the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptian rule and led them to the “land flowing with milk and honey”, the people are acknowledging God’s faithfulness and steadfastness, “we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Dt 26:9, 7). Then, Moses offers the “firstfruits of the products of the soil”, an offering of thanksgiving, on behalf of the whole community. In fact, everytime we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we give thanks to God just as Moses did: remembering God’s goodness, His “terrifying power, … signs and wonders”, and offering our “work of human hands” (Dt 26:8, Eucharistic Prayer). In the Anamnesis of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “as we celebrate the memorial of His Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minster to you”. Then, we proclaim in unison, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again”. St. Paul also reminds us that we must “confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] heart that God raised him from the dead”, so that we “will be saved” (Rm 10:9). How, then, do we practise gratitude everyday? Perhaps, like Moses, we need to remember God’s goodness; even during our most challenging moments, God is still walking with us. Then, we give thanks to God: for our joys and tears, our success and failure, our fullness and emptiness.
Gratitude also implies a complete trust and reliance on God. With a heart full of gratitude, we acknowledge that only God can sustain us and fulfil all our needs. In Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus during His forty-day retreat in the desert, we see that the devil seizes a golden opportunity as he approaches Jesus at his lowest point physically: He is weak with hunger and has been alone for forty days. However, what the devil does not, and cannot, anticipate is Jesus’ resilience; a strength that can only come from His complete trust in God. With each temptation, Jesus rebuts with scripture. Hungry? “One does not live on bread alone” (Lk 4:3). As St. Augustine wrote, “our heart is restless until it rests in [God]”. Nothing of this world can truly satisfy us and satiate our inner hunger; that is, a spiritual hunger. Our emptiness can only be filled by God. Thirst for power and glory? “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (4:8). Though the glory offered by the world is tempting, we cannot serve more than one master. Choose love; choose God! Looking for safety and security? “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (4:12). When we are in need, place our trust in God for He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). Jesus wants us to know that God is our everything and God’s “grace is sufficient for [us], for power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:9).
Just like Moses and the Israelites offering the firstfruits, we offer bread, “fruit of the earth”, and wine, “fruit of the vine”, and “work of human hands”, at every Eucharistic celebration. We shall never forget God’s goodness and love made concrete in His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, we offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” in thanksgiving (Rm 12:1). God, in His boundless love and mercy, continues to care for us and provide us with everything we need. He tirelessly brings us closer to Him, especially when we lose our ways. Therefore, we must remember what God has done for us and give thanks unceasingly!