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

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.

The Almighty Power of God

God’s absolute power allows him to judge us with leniency.

Homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

The Lord, God Merciful and Compassionate

Mercy is more powerful than power and more fertile than fertility. How? Creation is at its core.

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020.

The Lord God, Merciful and Compassionate

Truly, Jesus is Risen! Alleluia!

Today we celebrate the Octave Day of Easter. While this is the eighth solar day since Easter Sunday (Romans always included the current day, in case you’re wondering), the Church has considered this simply one long day. We also celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today. This insight, of God’s steadfast mercy, can assist us as we continue to reflect on the meaning of the Resurrection in our lives, because the Resurrection—and God Himself—has the concept of mercy at its core. For Easter to truly make sense, we need to know why God did what he did. To know why God did what he did, we need to know more about God, namely: who is this God that we worship? To really answer that question, we need to go even further back in time. We need to understand what makes our understanding of God different than the pagan understanding of the gods. To do that, we need to go back to the time of the Exodus, when God revealed himself to the Israelite people. We must go back to this time, because it is when God Himself tells us what differentiates him from the false gods of the pagans.

In the time of the Exodus, there were many, many religions. With these religions, there were many, many false gods. If you look at the patterns amongst all the ancient religions, two deities tend to be the most important. Baal and his consort Asherah, perhaps under other names, tend to be the most worshipped deities in the ancient religions. Baal was the god of power and Asherah was the goddess of fertility. These were the two traits most desired by ancient peoples, because these two traits seemed to lead to earthly prosperity. You needed power to hold on to what you and your people had, and you needed fertility to grow your people.

The Israelites, however, had an entirely different conception of God. Power and fertility were not the defining traits of God: mercy was. If we read the Old Testament with our eyes open to this reality, we see that God constantly reinforced this understanding. This is, perhaps, most obvious in Exodus 34:6-7. In this passage, God passes before Moses and announces himself, saying “The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation!” (NABRE) Don’t get fixated on the last sentence there. The English translation here makes God seem very dark. God is declaring that while he forgives our sins, the effects of sin last well beyond the person and the event of an individual sin—but that’s another homily. Instead, let’s look at the first words God speaks of himself. If we go back to the Hebrew (יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן) (Adonai, Adonai, El raḥūm weḥannūn) and Greek (Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων), a slightly more literal translation would be “LORD, LORD, God merciful and gracious.” God considers himself to be, above all, a merciful God. To us, this is obvious, but we live in a world where the Israelite understanding of God, which is also our Christian understanding of God, is dominant. In those days, where most of the world followed deities of power and fertility, most people would have considered this God of Mercy, to be weak and powerless. This is, perhaps, one reason that the Bible tells us the Israelite peoples had such trouble staying faithful to God. Through time, though, we have seen that mercy does conquer all, and the culmination of mercy was when Jesus conquered death on the Cross for us.

How, though? How does mercy prevail over all else? How is mercy more powerful than power and more fertile than fertility? Think about what happens when God shows us his mercy, about what happens when we show mercy. To show mercy implies that something evil has been done. Evil is nothingness. It cannot create; it can only destroy. Evil is predatory upon the good. But when mercy is shown in the face of evil, we deny the evil its goal. We prevent the destruction which was intended by the evil and we turn it into something creative, even if it is solely creative within us. When God shows mercy, it is even more powerful, because in those cases God can take an evil which has been done and re-create something good. God created all of the universe out of nothing, and when he re-creates something destroyed by evil, we call it mercy. Even now we see examples of this. We can easily see the pain and destruction wrought by the evil effects of the coronavirus, but if we honestly look around us, we see that God is creating in the wake of this destruction: the solidarity of people who join together to support their brothers and sisters, the awakening of ingenuity and creativity of science and industry, the emphasis on the common good and recognition that individuals have a responsibility to contribute to the common good.

God’s triumph of mercy despite suffering is a cause for joy. St. Peter writes, “rejoice, when you share in some measure the sufferings of Christ; so joy will be yours, and triumph, when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13 Knox) God’s mercy is not obvious, and it is strange, but through His mercy, death and sin are conquered. God’s mercy blesses us, so that despite the blindness of our senses, we who have not seen can believe. God’s “great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NABRE) God’s consistent response to evil is mercy. His greeting to the disciples today is, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I have sent you.” (John 20:21) God sent his Jesus Christ on a mission of Divine Mercy to humanity. Today, Christ sends us on that same mission. As we celebrate God’s mercy upon us today, let us strive to imitate his mercy in our lives. Let us strive to see his mercy coursing through all the world. Most of all, let us surrender ourselves to the love of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and compassionate, saying, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Today’s Readings:
April 19, 2020
Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Jesus is Risen: We’ll Never be the Same!

Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!

After the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the apostles were never the same. Let’s follow their lead!

Homily for Easter Sunday, 2020.

We Will Never Be the Same

Resurrection Mosaic in a chapel at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary

Jesus is Risen. Alleluia!

Even in this time of fear, anxiety, and doubt—especially now—we must celebrate this day. This day is our feast of victory. This is the day when God’s light erupted back into the world. This is the day we remember that God has claimed us for himself. If we remember that kinship, then we must also remember, as John told us in his first letter, “[t]hat God is light, and no darkness can find any place in him; if we claim fellowship with him, when all the while we live and move in darkness, it is a lie; our whole life is an untruth. God dwells in light; if we too live and move in light, there is fellowship between us, and the blood of his Son Jesus Christ washes us clean from all sin. Sin is with us; if we deny that, we are cheating ourselves; it means that truth does not dwell in us. No, it is when we confess our sins that he forgives us our sins, ever true to his word, ever dealing right with us, and all our wrong-doing is purged away.” (1 John 1:5-9 Knox)

This imagery of light and dark is extremely timely, because with it comes the recognition that God is life-giving light and sin is death-dealing darkness. Unlike nearly any other challenge that we—and by “we” I mean the entirety of humanity—have faced in the last 100 years, we aren’t exactly sure what to do next. We do not really know what to do, and we are, frankly, quite helpless. In our current situation, there is a darkness to the future to which we are not accustomed. Even two months ago, this darkness was not there. But in this new-found darkness, we can now see something that has been there all along, something that has always been there, something that we were, perhaps, too distracted by the things of this world to notice before. Amidst all the darkness, there is a light. This “light shines in the darkness, a darkness which [is] not able to master it.” (John 1:5 Knox)

This light is Jesus Christ, and today that light shines more brightly than ever, as we celebrate the Resurrection. Today is a day of rejoicing, because today we celebrate the success of Christ’s conquest of sin and death, where he conquered their effects in eternity. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus showed us that death is not an end but a beginning. He took on the most frightening aspect of our humanity, death, and showed it impotent against him. Jesus, the Divine Word Become Flesh, is master over life itself, and he is too full of life for death to overcome him. He has extended to us an invitation to share in his life, his life which is too strong for death. This is our Easter faith: that by uniting ourselves with the life of Christ, we are no longer subject to the tyranny of death.

This light through the darkness shows us the path to uniting ourselves with Christ. It illuminates our sins and our faults, not to shame us, but so that we might recognize and overcome them. This light has shown us that we humans are not the masters of nature that we may have thought. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household, made this point on Good Friday, “The pandemic of the Coronavirus has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence.” 1 Painful as this recognition may be, the light has shone through the darkness and shown us the pride of modern humanity. By recognizing the true Lord of creation and returning to him, we can be assured that no matter what happens, we are on stable ground.

The light does not show us only the bad. It has also shown us something quite incredible: our human need to be in solidarity with one another. In this time of pandemic, where we are forced to be separate, we have not remained content to be isolated. People are constantly reaching out to check on their neighbors. Communication through phone and video chat is exploding. Through this pandemic, we have recognized something critical: we are all in this together. The light has shown us that our solidarity must go even deeper, because the true pandemic we face is much more insidious that a few nasty bits of RNA and protein. A virus, a non-living and material thing, can cause death to our bodies. We daily confront a much deadlier enemy: sin. Sin can cause death to our souls. This death is far worse, because it lasts for all eternity unless we repent and turn back to Christ. This primordial plague of sin is what Christ came to cure. Sin is the disease which grows from the leaven of malice and wickedness that St. Paul warns us about. (See 1 Corinthians 5:8) Our solidarity with our brothers and sisters cannot stop with fighting the Coronavirus: it must continue as we fight to eradicate the deadliest plague, the plague of sin. God’s strange mercy has brought darkness so that the light might shine more clearly. (cf. Psalm 49:21; Psalm 136)

God’s strange mercy has shone a light on the world which we cannot ignore. We must now invite the Lord to shine that same light into the depths of our hearts. We must allow him to break our hearts of stone and to give us new hearts and to fill us with his Spirit (see Ezekiel 36:26-27). We must allow him to put within our hearts the leaven “of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:8) This requires admitting that we are not always right, and that God’s ways are not our ways. But that is exactly what we celebrate: that God’s ways are not our ways. Our ways led to Adam and Eve turning away from God, hiding themselves, and separating all of humanity from God. Our ways led to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, to the pains of exile in Babylon, and to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. God’s ways, though, showed that from the very beginning he worked to bring humanity back to himself, and that humanity could never hide from the one who loves them so much. God’s ways brought his wandering children out of Egypt, now unified as a nation. God’s ways brought Israel home from exile, purified and united in their faith. God’s ways conquered death and showed us that death is much too weak to contain him. God’s ways not only showed us that sin and death are ultimately powerless, but that each of us is called to eternal life.

Today, we celebrate that God’s ways are not our ways. We celebrate his light coming into the world and showing us the way to truth. Let us praise God for his great gift to us. Let us thank him for strange mercy that we do not fully understand. Let us ask him every day to bring us closer to him, so that we may follow him, and imitate him, and shake free the shackles of sin.

On Easter Sunday, the Apostles would never take their Lord’s Presence for granted again. They would never deny God’s power again. The Apostles recognized that life would never be the same again. Let us allow the light of Christ into our lives, so that we, too, will never be the same.

Today’s Readings:
April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday, Year A
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Victimae Paschali Laudes (Sequence); John 20:1-9

Daily Mass for St. Patrick’s Day

Because of the coronavirus, at Blessed Sacrament we’re doing our best to allow people to pray the Mass even if they cannot physically be there. One of the way’s we’re doing that is by streaming as often as possible on our parish Facebook page. I’ve included today’s Mass, which I celebrated, in this post. The Mass begins at time 3:30 in the video.

Daily Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

see, I am doing something new!

We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.

God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.

Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.

The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, taken February 20, 2018.

We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.

As we approach the culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water that bring life back into the world.

Today’s Readings:
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

​Reflection for Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48