Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homily 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Now I'm back on the regular schedule for these homilies. Here is my homily on last weekend's readings on the Talents. Christ the King next.

Our readings today are about… STEWARDSHIP. Now, I know, I’m with you: the word “stewardship” or the phrase “time, talent, and treasure” often falls on deaf ears, they seem so cliché don’t they, and we hear them all the time. Thankfully, here at St. Athanasius, we have been changing the focus away from questions like “what do I have to give?” or “how much time do I have to spend?” to questions like “what gifts has God given me?”; “how does their use reflect my love for Him?”; and “what is God’s will for me?” We have moved away from focusing on certain amounts of time or money donated to prayerful discernment of God’s will. I think this shift has and will bear much fruit in this parish. And it’s not a moment too soon because these questions are not only significant to the life of our parish, but, as our Gospel teaches us today, to our eternal salvation as well.

Our readings provide many examples of the proper way to approach stewardship. In Proverbs the virtues of a “woman who fears the Lord” are extolled. She is one who is reverent, religious, and faithful, and works hard for God, her husband, and her family. I encourage especially all of the women of this parish to look at our first reading closely, pray with it and meditate on it, and hold up this woman of Proverbs as your example. While the text we have been given reads “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize”, a better translation would be that he, because of this trust, “will have no lack of gain” meaning that her work and her service is always productive and fruitful. Her strength, her skills, and her God-given gifts always serve the common good. She has prayerfully discerned God’s call for her life and has lived it joyfully and abundantly and this makes God, her husband, and her community very proud. Of her our psalm exclaims, “Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways!”

Our Gospel, on the other hand, offers us, ultimately, a strong example of what NOT to do in regards to stewardship and it issues us a bold challenge. It forces us to take a good hard look at our lives. Have we failed in the call to authentic, Christian stewardship? Have we, like the third servant, been slothful and wicked? Now our Gospel uses the word “lazy”, not “slothful” but sloth is definitely the sin described here. And as you all know it is one of the seven deadly sins. Our woman in Proverbs was everything but slothful. What then is this deadly sin of sloth?

In general it means being disinclined toward labor or exertion. But it has a much deeper spiritual significance. St. Thomas Aquinas calls it “sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve” (II-II:35). One theologian, Fr. Rickaby, describes it as the “don’t-care feeling.”
A man apprehends the practice of virtue to be beset with difficulties and chafes under the restraints imposed by the service of God. The narrow way stretches wearily before him and his soul grows sluggish… at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspires not joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness.
“In other words,” he says, “a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity.” He violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30).

My brothers and sisters, there is no time to be slothful. I tell myself this as well. But I have been greatly encouraged by so many of you who obviously have discerned God’s will and work hard with the gifts he has given you: Like those of you who do so many good little things that no one sees; those of you who spend many hours before the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays; those of you who prepare the sacristy, who serve Mass, distribute Holy Communion, and help out with our music; those of you who put so much work into our picnics and other festivals; who are angels to our elderly shut-ins; who perform the daily tasks of our parish offices; who support our widows and widowers; and especially those who cook for the rectory! J All of you serve with such joy and dedication that it gives me much hope for my own ministry.

But, still there remains much more to do be done. Not regarding mere dollar amounts or hours spent, like I said before, but regarding prayerful discernment of God’s will for the gifts he has given us. He is always calling us. The motto of the Benedictines is “Ora et Labora”, prayer and work. We must do both, now, for St. Paul in our second readings reminds us that our Lord will come again suddenly and unexpectedly, “like a thief at night.” “Therefore let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober” so that we will be prepared to give an account of our talents.

This word “talent,” interestingly enough, entered the English language directly from the parable in today’s Gospel. Here, a “talent” is a large sum of money roughly equal to 100 pounds of silver or 15 to 20 years’ wages of a laborer. The master entrusted a different number of talents to each of his three servants according to their ability and expected them to make a profit for him. The first and second servants doubled what was given to them and both received the same reward: “great responsibilities” and a share in the master’s joyful banquet. But the third servant out of fear and laziness squandered what was given to him so his talent was given to the first servant and he was thrown out of the master’s presence and separated from him.

Of course, this parable also has a deeply spiritual significance. We are the servants. The talents are the qualities God has bestowed on us, both those we are born with like intellectual capacity and musical ability or those we receive as supernatural graces like personal holiness, spiritual insight, or sacramental graces. The journey of the master, during which the servants where to invest their talents, signifies the duration of our life. His unexpected return signifies our death and his settling of accounts is our judgment. Finally the master’s joy, the banquet, is heaven.

Let us examine our approach to the gifts we have received from God. The Lord wants to see that his gifts have been well administered. Let us make use of the time we have to be ready. F. Suarez, a Mexican theologian explains that, after all,
When God is known well, it is not hard to love him. And when God is truly loved, it is not difficult to serve him… In fact, it even becomes a pleasure to serve him… The third servant knew his master well… and in spite of that it is obvious that he did not love him. And when love is missing, serving becomes very difficult.
You know, the opposite of laziness is diligence. This comes from the Latin word diligere, which means to love, to choose after careful study. “Love motivates a person to give true service. Laziness is a result of a failure to love.” “When a Christian kills time on this earth, he is putting himself in danger of ‘killing Heaven’ for himself.”

All you parents and grandparents out there, who were brought up on the Baltimore Catechism, must remind your children that they were made to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next. It doesn’t matter how many gifts, natural or supernatural, we have received; what matters is our generosity in putting them to good use. Just as natural abilities like playing the piano or speaking a foreign language become more perfect through use or become atrophied through disuse, so also graces that are used lead to an increase of grace, whereas graces that are neglected tend to be lost. We must respond to grace by making a genuine effort through our entire lives. Fr. Francis Fernandez, one of my favorite authors, illustrates this beautifully:
When life comes to an end, perhaps we may think something like a candle has gone out. But we should also see death as the time when something like a tapestry has been completed. We have watched this tapestry being made from the reverse side where the design of the artwork is blurred and the knots and twisted loops of the needlework are prominent. Our Father, God, contemplates the tapestry from the good side. He is pleased to behold a finished work that manifests a life-long effort to make good use of time.

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