Even One Talent is Worth the Effort

Note: this was the text I had originally written for my homily on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

This week, when I went to visit the 8th graders, I was a bit surprised to walk into a room that was silent. Usually, when they see me walking in, all sorts of pandemonium will begin—bit not this time. They were all busy praying with today’s Gospel, learning to use the ancient method of prayer called Lectio Divina. At its root, Lectio Divina has one primary goal: to allow us to encounter Jesus Christ through the Word, specifically, through the Word of God as given to us in the Holy Bible. One of the things that I like about this way of praying is that it encourages me to slow down, so that when I encounter a strange or troubling passage that challenges my preconceived notions about God or how I should interact with his world I can sit with it and allow God to work on me. When we find such things in the Bible, I occasionally have to remind myself: if the Bible says one thing and I think or say another, it is always going to be the Bible that is right. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, after all. 

So, I asked the 8th graders what about this passage stuck out to them about this Gospel, what bothered them about this passage, or what didn’t make sense to them. After they worked through the fact that the priest was asking them what bothered them about the Bible, they presented me with two major issues. First, it doesn’t seem fair that one servant got five talents, another two, and another simply one. Second, how is the master’s response to the servant with one talent merciful?

To answer these questions, we have to step into the spiritual understanding of this reading. One of the best ways to do this is to read what the Church Fathers wrote about this Gospel.

To the first question, we recognize that the master is Jesus Christ, who has ascended into Heaven. He has given the talents to us, his servants. To some he has given more gifts, to some he has given fewer gifts. St. Jerome, who is responsible for the Vulgate, which was the translation into Latin of the Bible used by the Church for 1700 years, wrote that Christ gives “the Gospel doctrine, to one more, to another less, not as of His own bounty or scanting, but as meeting the capacity of the receivers.” Jerome notes that St. Paul mentions doing something similar when he remarks that those who are not ready for solid food are given milk to prepare them. Origen, a theologian in Alexandria, Egypt, in the early 200s, notes that to receive even one talent from such a master as Jesus Christ is a great thing, and that the talents cannot be measured against each other in the way that we always desire to do.

St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the later 4th century, is considered the greatest preacher in history, writes in reference to our second question that “not only he who robs others, or who works evil, is punished with extreme punishment, but he also who does not good works.” Origen writes, “If you are offended at this we have said, namely that a man shall be judged if he does not teach others, call to mind the Apostle’s words [that is, St. Paul], ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’ (1 Cor 9:16)” St. Gregory—I’m not sure which one, there were several saints and doctors of the Church named Gregory—wrote that “to hide one’s talent in the earth is to devote the ability we have received to worldly business.” This is an error, Gregory teaches, because even the smallest of gifts has been entrusted to us so that we may bring the goodness of God into the world from them.

If we look around, our experience confirms the teachings of these Church Fathers. We encounter many people who are exceptionally talented, who have been given all of the wealth and power a person could possibly want. Are these people happy? More importantly, are they good people? Too often, the answer is “no.” The number of gifts we are given does not impact our ability to love God and to spread the Gospel, which is what each of us has been called to do. Those people who receive many gifts that are good, God-fearing people have done incredible things. We need only to look at the saints to see an example of this. We have saints that started with nothing, who were literally slaves, and we have saints who had everything, who were literally kings. Every one of them was a good steward of their gifts and multiplied what God had given them.

The man in this parable who received one talent was fearful of his master, so he buried his gifts and took care of himself. This is why the master calls him wicked and lazy. He cared only for himself. His master had been generous with him, but the servant, by neglecting the gifts given to him, was not generous in return. He squandered the gifts he was given. The value of the return is less important than the fact that he was given the gift so that he might grow it. St. Jerome writes that the master does not look to “the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will.” If the servant given the 5 talents had squandered them as the servant given one, the reckoning would’ve been dreadful beyond words. Much is expected of those to whom much has been given.

St. John Chrysostom teaches that “[t]his parable is delivered against those who will not assist their [neighbors] either with money, or words, or in any other way, but hide all that they have.” Each one of us has been given immeasurable gifts by God. He expects us to use them.

Today’s Readings:
November 15, 2020
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Lamps of Faith, Oil of Good Works

oil lamp

God gives us faith as a gift. Do we allow it to shine forth by supplying it with the oil of good works?

Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Live the Beatitudes

If we don’t live the Beatitudes, we put our souls in jeopardy.

Homily for All Saints Day, 2020.

Living Like the Saints

Today we celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We celebrate the victory that all of the saints, those known and unknown to us, have achieved over sin and death. We celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us in joining them, because each and every one of us “want to be in that number,” as the famous song says. We desire to be one of those holy ones mentioned in Revelation, who have survived the tribulation (2020,anyone?) are clothed in robes that have been made white in the Blood of the Lamb. We desire that salvation which comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb. How do we do this? We must become children of God and make ourselves pure. We must separate ourselves from the things of this world. St. John tells us that the world does not know him. If we are to become like him, the world will not know us either. Everything on this planet is secondary to the love we must have for God. We must entirely submit ourselves to God and his will, die to our earthly ambitions and desires, and allow God to use as his chosen instruments.

Jesus tells us how to do this in the Gospel today. The Beatitudes are not nice little platitudes about how we are to be nice to one another. They are the new law of Jesus Christ. Just as Moses proclaimed the Ten Commandments at the foundation of the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant, now Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes from a mountain as the foundation of the New Covenant and the code of conduct for anyone who wants to call himself or herself a child of God. If we do not take living the Beatitudes seriously, we put our souls in peril of eternal damnation. To become saints, like those great and holy men and women we celebrate today, we must live the beatitudes.

[note: the following paragraphs make much use of St. Augustine’s work on the Sermon on the Mount, found here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm]

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who are poor in spirit have conquered the pride within themselves. They do not hold themselves above others. They are humble and God-fearing, because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and true wisdom is to live as a child of God. We should not have a crippling fear of God that terrorizes us, but we must remember that our actions on this earth will judge us, and God will pronounce this judgment. It is not wise to hold ourselves about the source of all knowledge and the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven. To be poor in spirit means that we recognize the authorities over us, and that we recognize that we are not always right. The proud receive their reward on this earth, while the humble and poor in spirit receive their reward in Heaven. Thérèse of Lisieux shows us how to live this Beatitude: she wanted to be everything, but recognized that she simply could not achieve this. Instead of clinging to pride and trying to do so anyway, she recognized that her humble and simple prayers, her Little Way, would bring her to Heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. We may mourn the loss of certain things in this world: our power, our wealth, our prestige, our job, but the loss of these is nothing when compared to the rewards God has promised us. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will bring us peace as we seek out God. Much more than these temporal and fleeting losses, we should mourn the sinfulness in our lives that continues to separate us from God, and him to comfort us by delivering us from these sins. Mary, the Mother of God, and her Seven Sorrows are well known, yet she was never without peace and was never separated from God by sin.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. We often mistake weakness for meekness, but that is a grave error. The meek accept wickedness and evil inflicted upon them, but always work to overcome evil with good. The martyrs of our Holy Church exemplify meekness: often in the face of government persecution. Read the stories of St. Lawrence, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Thomas More. Our Catholic ancestors in the United States showed great meekness as they suffered through terrible anti-Catholic bias—both legally and illegally—in this country, but continued to work for the common good, founding organizations such as the Knight of Columbus, working for the rights of workers in the various labor movements, founding hospitals to care for the sick, establishing the largest non-governmental school system in the country, and being exemplars in charity toward neighbor. Piety, the prayer to and proper worship of God and prayer to the saints for their intercession, is how we submit all earthly things to God and allow him to transform evil to good.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Jesus himself told us that his food is to do the will of the Father. As we unite ourselves to Christ, this must also become our food, for righteousness is the will of the Father. We must fight off sin and temptations to do our own will, asking the Lord to give us fortitude. United to the will of the Father, we will be satisfied, for nothing is sweeter than the righteousness of union with God. Saint Mother Theresa found her nourishment in bringing the love and mercy of God to the poor and dying in India, and despite much trial and tribulation, persisted in this satisfying work.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. We are offered great mercy from God. He died for our sins on the Cross to redeem us from damnation. He gave us the Sacraments to be fonts of mercy in our lives. In the Sacrament of Confession, particularly, we see God’s mercy face-to-face. Mercy is constantly offered to us, but if we close our hearts to the people around us it is all for naught. If we cannot show mercy to our neighbor and love them as God loves us, then we are incapable of receiving God’s mercy. Those who are merciless condemn themselves to hell, while those who share God’s mercy will be lifted up to Heaven. Look at St. Dismas, the good thief: his last action on this earth was to stand up for Jesus, a small mercy in their last moments, and for such a small mercy St. Dismas was rewarded eternal life.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. We cannot see God with our eyes: we see him in our hearts; therefore, we must cleanse our hearts of evil and earthly things. God dwells within our hearts. If we continuously try to evict him, we have no chance of seeing Him, because we have hidden him with the muck and filth of sin. A clean heart comes from and informed conscience, an educated intellect, and a moral life. St. Mary Magdalene and St. Augustine were both public sinners, yet they achieved eternal glory by purifying themselves of their base desires for sin and replacing these perverse desires with desire for God alone.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. A peacemaker must first be at peace in his or her self. The peacemaker unifies his or her heart and body and soul with the will of God and casts out the things of this world. Purified from such lower things, the peacemaker can lead people to God, the source of peace. This work can be done only by the children of God, because only those who fear the Lord can gain this true wisdom. The prince of this world, Satan, strives after division, disorder, and strife. Those who keep their eyes solely on this world; those who place their hopes in political power or in money; those who have made an idol of their nation, their political party or political candidates, or even a particular person; those who have placed their hope for salvation in anyone who is not God; all of those people have separated themselves from God. Such people have made themselves, at best, children of this world and, at worst, children of the devil. Such people cannot bring peace, because there is no peace within them or the one whom they follow. Such people only bring division. Long before the United States made any progress against the morally bankrupt and totalitarian policies of Communism and Marxism, one of the greatest peacemakers in history was on the front lines: Saint Pope John Paul II. If we want to bring peace into this world, we too must become living saints.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. The person who exemplifies these beatitudes will be hated and persecuted by this world, because the children of this world hate everything for which they stand. But someone who lives the beatitudes is a child of God, a member of the Kingdom of Heaven, and will receive an eternal inheritance beyond all imagining.

We must take the beatitudes seriously, just as every single saint did. Today, we celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us as we strive to be in that number.

Today’s Readings:
November 1, 2020
All Saints Day, Year A
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

Be Grapes of Glory

One bad grape spoils the bunch. Pursue whatever is just, true, and excellent so that you might be a grape of glory.

Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Workin’ in the vineyard

Let’s be honest: we’ve all been upset by this parable at some point. If we zoom out a bit, it helps us see the glory of what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Forgiveness is not Optional

We must make the choice to forgive, but the consequences are dire if we do not make that choice. Generous forgiveness is not an option if we desire eternal life.

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

The World Needs Catholic Prophets

Without the prophetic witness of Catholics, we don’t stand a chance.

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

The Word Burns Like Fire

God’s Word cannot be imprisoned in our hearts: it will burn like fire until it is set free. Even if it means we are objects of laughter and mockery, we allow God to transform us, for he will one day come with his angels in glory.

Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Do You Understand?

We have spent three Sundays with Jesus’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Do we understand all these things?

Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.