The Personalist Project

“Cleansed, but not saved” was the theme of a homily I heard last Sunday. The homilist took his cue from the Gospel reading (Lk 17:11-19) in which Jesus cleanses ten lepers, but only one—a Samaritan—returns to give thanks. “Ten were cleansed, were they not?” Jesus asks. “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then He turns to the one who came back and says “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Ten persons were cleansed by Jesus. They were relieved of terrible objective suffering and restored to health. But only one was saved. What made the difference? Gratitude, said the priest.

This got me reflecting. Why would gratitude make such an ultimate difference? What was that difference? Perhaps the ten were at first only cleansed in a physical or bodily sense, and only the one who came back was cleansed a second time, and now in a spiritual sense?

Yes, surely. But my thoughts went in different, more personalist direction. I was thinking about the way in which God’s saving work among persons requires our free cooperation, even participation. Laundry gets thrown into the machine and comes out clean. It passively undergoes the cleansing. With persons it is different. It is not just that persons have souls, and that souls require a different kind of washing. It is rather that persons are so constituted that they cannot be washed (as persons) without freely willing it. Persons cannot be cleansed by passively undergoing some procedure. They must want it and go along with it. In other words, they must subjectively appropriate the washing.

This, I think, is why the gratitude of the one leper is so important. It shows that he saw the cleansing action not simply as a fantastic bit of good luck that happened to him, but rather as a great gift coming from a loving and compassionate Giver.  As such it called for a proper and personal response; for “active receptivity” and deep gratitude. By giving this response, the leper allowed the cleansing to do its deeper and saving work—not just in his flesh, but in his very self.

Gratitude is the means by which a subject, a self, appropriates a gift, and makes the giving and receiving a genuinely inter-personal act.

  • share
  • tweet
  • print

Comments (1)

Scott Johnston

#1, Oct 19, 2010 7:12pm

Great comment, Jules! I think this is so important, and, to my thinking, it points directly at the heart of one of the fundamental things that identifies an especially Catholic understanding of life in relationship to God.

This is what Catholics mean when we speak of having to do something in regard to our salvation. It’s not at all about taking primary responsibility for our salvation. Rather, it’s about allowing God, by our humble participation in His saving acts in our regard, to ennoble us with the incredible dignity of being creatures who are invited to share personally with our own free wills in Jesus Christ’s redemption of the world and who may accept and act upon that invitation by grace!

The excessively passive (in an inert, non-participatory sense) approach to accepting salvation that is more common among non-Catholics is actually a view of life, it seems to me, that demotes human dignity tremendously, for our personal individual human freedom in this view participates in the gift of salvation in a much lower, lesser way.

Does God just plug His nose and cover the “dung heaps” of our souls with the beauty of Christ (thus, not even realizing our true selves), or, does he take the dung in our souls and, with our free cooperation, make it into something beautiful and sweet smelling, so there is no need to cover it over?

As adults, it seems the first steps along this blessed path of inner transformation is our response of gratitude to God for all His many gifts.

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?