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This Is The Real Juice

They once lived at the shelter. They had nowhere to sleep and to live, and so the shelter became their sanctuary until they finally found somewhere to live. I love stories like that. It is the sort of story that makes me emotional and causes some tears to run down my cheeks. Stories that reflect the will to overcome some of the challenges of life, to succeed against all odds. Stories that highlight the desire to triumph - even when you absolutely have no reason to do so.

The real juice, I would say, is when you have actually overcome the challenge, when you are successful and, in response, you give thanks and celebrate with those who share your former circumstance. The real juice is when you decide to give back by offering to others some hope that they can also triumph. This is the real juice, when you give back - not as a matter of pride or boastfulness, but as a matter of gratitude. For me, that is the power within us that gives voice to the silent reality that recognizes and embraces the noble idea of human dependency.

Every NFL draft season comes with a powerful "rags-to-riches" story. They are wonderful stories that speak of triumph, success, and belief in the power of possibilities. In a sense, they are like resurrection stories. One such recent story made a huge impression on me. After reading the story, I immediately forwarded it to my oldest daughter. The story is about Najee Harris, a man who was recently drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a middle school boy, he spent time at the homeless shelter because his family had nowhere to live. It was the only place that offered the family some sanctuary.

The challenges of life, even as a kid, didn’t move him to lose faith in himself or the potential within him. He worked hard, and his hard work paid off when he was drafted last week. This is the real juice - Najee went back to the homeless shelter where he once lived with his family, relived the memories of living at the shelter, celebrated his achievement by throwing a draft watch party for the current residents of the shelter, and expressed his gratitude to those who run the shelter. This example shows how Najee is now exploring the many avenues by which he could give back to the shelter.

The Gospel of Luke recounts an incident where ten lepers reached out to Jesus, desiring to be healed. The lepers could have been a part of a leper colony because the law considered them unclean and prohibited them from interacting with the clean. They approached Jesus from a distance with this cry, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Jesus sure did have pity on them and asked them to go see the priest. On their way, all ten lepers were healed. This is the juice - of the ten, only one person returned to offer thanks to God, to say, "Thank you," to express gratitude, to give back.

Jesus then inquired, "Were not ten healed; but the nine, where are they?" They did not find it within themselves to return and offer thanks to God for their healing. I always wonder about those nine. Why did they not return to give thanks? Was it because they were all too excited or they felt entitled to the gift of healing they received? I have learned that any sense of entitlement that you may have - whether justified or not - undermines and questions any desire to give thanks and to give back.

A few days ago, I received a certificate of recognition from the Howard County Public School System on behalf of Christ Church. This certificate is in recognition of the outstanding community partnership between Christ Church and Lake Elkhorn Middle School. As many of you know, our ministry with Lake Elkhorn has been a blessing to not only the kids but to our volunteers. I value our ministry to Lake Elkhorn and the positive impact we may make on a child’s life. For me, it is a way for each of us to express gratitude for all our blessings and, like Najee, to give back.

I do not know which child we will touch the most. I do not know which child will find within oneself, in years to come, the grace to return and give thanks for a ministry that blessed them immensely. But one thing I know is, if we can continue to be the shelter that offers sanctuary to the homeless like Najee, we would keep faith in the God who blesses us with life.

Someone wrote this prayer, I asked God to give me all things so I can enjoy life, but gave me life so I can enjoy all things. This is the real juice; as you enjoy all things, don’t forget to be grateful enough to give back.

Happy Eastertide.

Fr. Manny


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