Courage to Invest Wisely the Gold Coin of Christian Life, 33rd Wednesday (I), November 22, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Cecilia
November 22, 2017
2 Mc 7:1.20-31, Ps 17, Lk 19:11-28

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel we have the Parable of the Coins, which is similar to that of the Talents we heard on Sunday, but the main difference is in this Parable, everyone gets the same investment on the part of the Lord. One multiplies it by 10, another by 5, 7 we don’t know about, and the tenth buries it. Whereas with the Parable of the Talents, often we can focus on how many talents we have relative to others, today’s Parable has us focus on the fact that the greatest gifts we’ve received, to a large degree we have received equally with others: the gift of our life, the gift of time, for us as Catholics, the gift of God’s word, the gift of the Sacraments, the gift of the faith, the gift of so many opportunities for charity. How are we investing these divine gifts? Are we bearing great dividends from them? How are we planning to invest the gift of this day for loving God and others? We all know that there are some people who really profit from these common gifts and others who place them in handkerchiefs. Most of us would give the Lord somewhere between 1-10. But the impact of this Parable is to get us to take the risks necessary to bear a windfall.
  • Before we move on, let’s first handle a couple of things for the setting of the Parable. The first is about life in general. Jesus told the people the Parable “because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” The Parable of the Coins was given to help people know why the Kingdom of God they were expecting politically wasn’t going to appear, but rather, how the Kingdom among them, as it awaits fulfillment, is a place in which people are growing the kingdom by investing the King’s gifts. How important this point is for us to grasp: time is a kairos of investing for the kingdom. The second introductory point involves the setting of the story, which involves history known very well to Jesus’ listeners but not to people today. Jesus was taking advantage of the well-known story of how after King Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided into three parts, but each needed to go to Rome to be confirmed by the emperor in the kingship. The king of Judah, Herod Archelaus, went to Rome but the people sent a delegation saying that they didn’t want him as king. The emperor confirmed him without the title king — he named him tetrarch — and upon the return, Archelaus executed those who didn’t want him to be king. In this month of November, in which we meditate on death and judgment, there’s a spiritual equivalent for those who don’t want to accept God as King. He doesn’t punish or slay them because in a sense he doesn’t have to: they’re already spiritually dead. Hell is not merciless but merciful, for as CS Lewis once said, there are only two types of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” Hell is for those who want self-separation, and choose it continually through their choices, and those are the ones who won’t be in the kingdom.
  • Let’s get into the heart of the Parable and what Jesus is teaching. Jesus gives the ten servants a treasure of a gold coin. The coin is actually a mina, which is one-sixtieth of a Talent. Since a talent was 6,000 days wages, a Mina is 100 days wages or a third of a year’s salary; for someone making $40,000 a year about $13,333, not an enormous sum but substantial enough. Those entrusted by the King with this Mina make different yields:  the first one makes ten, the second five, and the last just conceals the coin in a handkerchief. We don’t know what the other seven did. We see the incredible reward given to those who proved themselves trustworthy in these little matters, the one who made ten — about $133,333, or more than three years’  work — was entrusted with ten cities and the one who made five with five cities. But then in each parable we encounter someone who out of fear refused to invest the coin. In St. Matthew’s Parable of the Talents, the Master called the one who buried the talent a “wicked, lazy servant.” Today the king says, “With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant.” It would have been interesting if Jesus had given us the example of a servant who had tried to make a profit but actually lost money. My hunch is that the King and Master would have treated that servant rather well, since that would have been a result of bad luck or bad training. He may have been an incompetent servant or an unfortunate one, but he wouldn’t been lazy and wicked. The Lord is not necessarily asking us to be successful, but he certainly is asking us to make the effort. But in the case of the wicked servant, the lazy servant, the problem was his fear. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant” and for that reason he kept it in a handkerchief. His fear lead to his sloth, to his omissions. Jesus, on the other hand, is encouraging us not to be afraid to take risks, to invest what he’s given us. He has made us in his image and we see in the Parable that God reaps where he doesn’t sow, taking the risk even of giving us freedom. He wants us to do the same. But fear cripples us and is not of God. We need to have the courage to put all that God has given us at the service of him and others, not comparing ourselves to those who are making more or less, just doing the best we can. The reality is, from God’s perspective, that when we get to the most important talents or gold coin involved in life, it seems that it’s impossible not to “make a profit” if we actually make the effort to “trade” with it in life. The most important talent of all, as we pondered on Sunday, is God himself. We have the ability to pray to him and be guided each day, to enter into his life in the Sacraments, to enflesh his word in Sacred Scripture, to be strengthened by his Body the Church (the communion of saints in heaven, the presence of a family of faith here on earth, and the instruction of the magisterium), and to serve him in others. If we make the effort, we will bear great dividends. Jesus promised us about prayer that the one who seeks finds, the one who asks receives and the one who knocks has the door opened. We could say that the one who invests God spiritually reaps a spiritual windfall. But we have to invest that relationship. The more we invest, the more we receive God’s guidance, the more we really allow him to transform us in sacramental encounters, the more we insert ourselves into the communion of holiness and charity, the more fruit we’ll bear.
  • In order to bear great dividends, however, we cannot be overwhelmed by fear about what could go wrong. Just like those on Wall Street, we need to be willing to task risks. We need to confront and overcome our fears, not cave into them like the man with the handkerchief. And we receive so much inspiration from today’s first reading, where we see the courage of this family — a mother and her seven sons — in remaining faithful to God. They refused to eat pork because in the Old Testament God had forbidden it, and they wouldn’t sin against the Lord even in the least way in order to save their lives from torture and death. They illustrate for us the saying of the waves of martyrs in Church history: “Better to die than to sin.” Because they were faithful in keeping their Covenant with the Lord in small things — like what they would or would not eat — they were faithful even when threatened with death. There’s a great lesson here. If we’re going to bear great dividends, we need to be faithful in little things, which means we need to be willing to die to ourselves for God each day, to go the way of the grain of wheat, to save our life by losing it. Because the seven sons were faithful in not eating pork normally, they were strengthened to remain true to God when they would have to say no at the risk of their life. The early Church used to prepare catechumens to remain faithful under torture and martyrdom and if they were prepared to remain faithful with God’s help in the supreme tests, they began to pour themselves into their relationship with God in the daily tests. We also see in this scene something beautiful about spiritual maternity. Their mother, rather than being overwhelmed by this worldly sentimentality, encouraged all of her sons to remain faithful, speaking in their mother tongue a language they could understand, and reminding them both about the cost of fidelity to God and the reward. She was the one who emboldened them to be faithful. God wants us all not only to be faithful ourselves but to encourage others to similar courage and fidelity. As spiritual mothers, Sisters, you fulfill this task for so many.
  • Another example of fidelity and of encouraging others toward faithfulness in the risk of suffering is the feast of the holy one we celebrate today, St. Cecilia. She was one whose investment of the gold coin God gave her continues to bear fruit centuries after her death. Cecilia was a young girl of a noble Christian family who fasted, wore a hair shirt, and desired to give herself always as a virgin to God, but her father had plans for a good marriage to a young pagan patrician named Valerian. During their wedding, among the music and rejoicing of the guests, Cecilia stayed apart, singing to God within and praying for help. When she and Valerian retired to the place where he was prepared to consummate the marriage, Cecilia told him a secret that she has an angel watching over her and that if he touched her in the way of marriage, the angel would make his suffer, but if he respected her and got baptized, he would see the angel. Valerian received instruction, god baptized by Pope Urban, and then saw the angel standing by Cecilia’s side who put on both of their heads a crown of roses and lilies, a sign (like we’d see much later in the life of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe) of martyrdom and purity, respectively. The fact that Valerian could see Cecilia’s angel shows that we’re never abandoned, that our serving as a lamp stand and an olive tree is multiplied, as we see in Revelation, by the presence of the Angel God sends each of us. Valerian eventually helped his brother Tiburtius to convert and the two of them began to care for the bodies of all the martyrs seeking to bury them. That exposed them as Christians and both were brought to martyrdom with the guard, Maximus, who witnessed their supreme testimony and became a Christian on the spot and almost immediately a fellow martyr. Cecilia buried all three bodies and herself was exposed as a Christian and brought to trial before Almachius. She was unable to be threatened out of her faith and after they tried to suffocate her by fire, ended up trying to behead her, but the axe wouldn’t penetrate through her entire neck. The blow, however, turned out to be fatal after three days and she was buried close to the popes in the catacombs that would eventually be named after St. Callistus. Her relics were translated by Pope St. Paschal in the early 800s to the area that was believed to have been her house and where a Church had been built after the age of persecutions. In 1599, the Cardinal in charge of the Church of St. Cecilia (Cardinal Sfondrati), in doing various renovations, decided to re-inter Cecilia with SS. Valerian, Tiburtius and Maximus, and as he opened her tomb, he found her incorrupt. He had the great renaissance sculptor Stefano Maderno make a sculpture identical to what was seen in the tomb. That statue is now found before her tomb as well as a copy has been placed in the catacombs closed to where her bodied had rested for over five centuries. He remains looked as if she were sleeping. You could see the axe marks in her neck. But what has always struck me — and many others — is the way she was prophesying even in death. In her right hand, she had two fingers and her thumb extended. In her left, she had her index finger extended. This was a means by which she was proclaiming her faith in her Triune God, one God in three persons. This was the supreme witness she was giving that not even Roman executioners could cut her off from her attachment to the Vine, because she was united with him even in martyrdom. She poured out her blood as a libation together with Christ’s, spending herself totally in love while she was alive, in such a way that the effusion of blood at her death was just an exclamation point on the way she lived. She was faithful in choosing Christ over her own pleasures in “little things” and was faithful in the great thing of her supreme witness. What St. Ambrose said famously in his treatise on virginity for the feast of St. Agnes is certainly apropos for her: “Virginity is praiseworthy not because it is found in [the virgin] martyrs, but because it makes [the virgin] martyrs.” Her daily choice for Christ strengthened her to choose him until the end! She kept investing her daily gold coin until she had become so rich in God that she didn’t fear a thing!
  • Today Jesus has brought us here not to slay us before him but to show us that he was willing to be slain before us and to allow us to enter into communion with his loving courage. This is the secret to St. Cecilia’s great eternal dividends. This is what the great mother and her sons now have in fulfillment as a result of their faith. This is what will likewise make us strong so that today we might invest our time and through praying our work and action be able to appear before the Lord with great returns on his great trust!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 2 MC 7:1, 20-31

It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested
and tortured with whips and scourges by the king,
to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.
Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother,
who saw her seven sons perish in a single day,
yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage,
she exhorted each of them
in the language of their ancestors with these words:
“I do not know how you came into existence in my womb;
it was not I who gave you the breath of life,
nor was it I who set in order
the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe
who shapes each man’s beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy,
will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”
Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words,
thought he was being ridiculed.
As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him,
not with mere words, but with promises on oath,
to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs:
he would make him his Friend
and entrust him with high office.
When the youth paid no attention to him at all,
the king appealed to the mother,
urging her to advise her boy to save his life.
After he had urged her for a long time,
she went through the motions of persuading her son.
In derision of the cruel tyrant,
she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language:
“Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months,
nursed you for three years, brought you up,
educated and supported you to your present age.
I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth
and see all that is in them;
then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things;
and in the same way the human race came into existence.
Do not be afraid of this executioner,
but be worthy of your brothers and accept death,
so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”
She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said:
“What are you waiting for?
I will not obey the king’s command.
I obey the command of the law given to our fathers through Moses.
But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews,
will not escape the hands of God.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 17:1BCD, 5-6, 8B AND 15

R. (15b) Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
Hear, O LORD, a just suit;
attend to my outcry;
hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
My steps have been steadfast in your paths,
my feet have not faltered.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my word.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.
But I in justice shall behold your face;
on waking, I shall be content in your presence.
R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.

Alleluia SEE JN 15:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 19:11-28

While people were listening to Jesus speak,
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”
After he had said this,
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
This image of St. Cecilia with St. Peter’s in the background was painted by my friend, Sr. Mary Angelica Neenan, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.