Investing the Talent of Our Weaknesses and Crosses, 21st Saturday (II), August 27, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 21st Saturday in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of Saint Monica
August 27, 2016
1 Cor 1:26-31, Ps 33, Mt 25:14-30

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today is the last daily Mass reading from our focus on St. Matthew’s Gospel, which we began two months ago on June 6. It’s from the end of St. Matthew’s account right before we enter into the description of the Passion and it focuses on judgment. Like the reading about the faithful and prudent steward we had on Thursday, like the parable of the five wise virgins we would have had yesterday, today, too, we encounter someone who goes away on a journey but then comes back, which teaches us about the behavior we’re supposed to have awaiting Jesus’ second coming. Today we see how he entrusts to us great gifts so that we can build his kingdom in his absence and build ourselves up in the process. He’s going to come back and he wants to show us how us how we’ve been able to learn with him how to become like him in our stewardship.
  • In the parable he gives three different amounts to three different servants, five, two and one talents. We can get lost in the numbers in our egalitarian culture and think that they’re important, but they’re not. Jesus gives to “each according to his ability” and he’ll judge us according to our ability, not according to quantity. We can also get a little lost by the number “one” as if someone would not have been able to do much with so little, but we have to remember that by the word “talent” Jesus was referring to a measurement of weight and one talent of silver was equal to 6,000 days wages; in todays money, if someone made $100 per day, that would be $600,000, and someone can do a lot with that much investment! Notice what those who had received the five ($3 million) and two ($1.2 million) did with what they received. They “immediately went out” and started to invest it, to make it grow. The one who had received the one, however, went out and buried it out of fear. Rather than sensing the trust given to him by the Master, he feared him, thinking he was demanding, cruel, tyrannical, and failed to bear any fruit from this gift. What does this refer to? It refers fundamentally to the way so many of the Scribes and Pharisees had received the talent of the Covenant, of divine revelation, but buried it out of fear because they didn’t want to risk breaking it. They weren’t growing to be more like God, but keeping the letter static and regressing and becoming neurotically attached to what they had buried because they had buried themselves with that talent. There’s a great lesson here. It’s not so much about what we’ve received, but how much effort we’ve had in response to what we’ve received, both on a natural and supernatural level. Whatever we have, we’re called to use that for the kingdom. The greatest talents of all we’ve received are spiritual: the Word of God, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, the Cross, in short, God. We’re called to invest these gifts.
  • Many of the most successful people on earth are not the most talented but the ones who have maximally responded to their gifts. This is also true spiritually. Today in the first reading St. Paul describes that most Christians were not those who were the most talented, but nevertheless they paid great dividends in response to the talents they received according to their abilities. It’s one of the most consoling passages in Sacred Scripture. St. Paul said, “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” Maybe we consider ourselves among the really lowly ones, but what we don’t have is actually a blessing, because we’re far more dependent on God and this itself is a great talent. When we’re spiritually poor, we’re more aware of our dependence on God. When we’re weak we’re strong. It’s when we’re humble, as St. Paul says at the end of the passage, that we recognize that Christ indeed is our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”
  • This is a lesson taught us very clearly in the life of St. Monica whom we celebrate today. Unlike her son, who was extremely wise in human sciences, she was foolish. She wasn’t born nobly. She was strong in terms of physical musculature. In some ways the greatest talent God gave her to invest by faith was the suffering she had at home. She prayed for 17 years for the conversion of her husband, Patricius, who was a violent and dissolute pagan. Though he was rich, he could not take Monica’s generosity to the poor. Though she was as faithful and loving to him as she sought to be toward God, he constantly chastised her piety. If all of that was not hard enough to bear, her cantankerous mother-in-law lived with them and daily multiplied the insults. All of this could have driven Monica to divorce and despair, but instead it propelled her to even greater devotion to God and them. For 17 years, she invested the “one talent” God had given her, making her sufferings prayers for their conversion. Eventually, the power of God’s grace and the example of her Christian virtues penetrated their hardened hearts and they both received baptism. For her husband it was just in time — he died a holy death less than a year later. But that work as a wife was just a warm-up for her work as a mother: to the one who has more, as Jesus says, more will be given! The oldest of her three children, Augustine, was then a brilliant teenage rhetoric student living away from home in Carthage. She hoped that he would follow the example of his father’s conversion, but, instead, especially after his fathers death, he went full-steam in the opposite direction. He joined the Manichean heretics. He invited a woman to cohabitate with him and fathered a child out-of-wedlock. When he would come home, he would intentionally blaspheme so much that Monica prevented him from eating or sleeping at home until the budding rhetorician learned to discipline his tongue. But Monica again didn’t bury the gift God had given her in self-pity or despair: she prayed unceasingly for her son’s conversion. She fasted. She got friends to intercede. She arranged for priests to argue with him. She flooded her bed and various churches with her tears. When Augustine decided he was going to Rome, Monica, fearing lest he never convert, decided to go with him. While waiting in port before their departure across the Mediterranean, however, Augustine lied to his mother about the departure time and left without her, caring so little about her as to leave his own mother helpless in a busy metropolis, without any word as to his whereabouts. But she didn’t “quit her job,” she didn’t give up. She didn’t forsake the investment God had asked her to make in life. A bishop, seeing her weeping, assured her on behalf of God, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” So she boarded a ship to Rome to look for Augustine there. She eventually received word that he was among the rhetoricians in Milan, and that’s where she and the Good Shepherd at last found their lost sheep. Thanks to the help of the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, who captivated Augustine first by his oratory and then by his faith and charity, Augustine renounced Manicheanism, accepted the Christian faith, made a promise of celibacy and received the gift of baptism at the age of 32. But it wasn’t just Ambrose whom God used for this great miracle. It was the example of the simple. As St. Augustine says it in his Confession, he turned to his friend Alypius and declared, “The unlearned start up and take heaven by force, and we with our learning, and without heart, … we wallow in flesh and blood! Are we ashamed to follow, because others are gone before, and not ashamed not even to follow?” The example of the weak, the foolish, the ignoble of birth by human standards — those like his mother! — pushed him over the limit, led him into the back hard, where he heard God telling him through an angel to take up and read, he picked up Sacred Scripture and there heard the words that would change him forever: “I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
  • Mother and son decided to return home to Africa, but Monica would not make it. She took ill in the Roman port of Ostia and was soon on her deathbed. Augustine was now the one full of tears, but Monica replied, “Son, my hopes in this world are now fulfilled. All I wished to live for was that I might see you a Catholic and a child of heaven. God has granted me more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to his service.” What a beautiful testimony of a mother’s chief work, and she rejoiced not just at his baptism but that he had decided to become a celibate to serve God. That was her dividend for the investment of all her prayers! As her other son was weeping that she would die outside of her native Africa making it impossible for them to bury her in her native land, she said, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” What a powerful preparation that thought is for Mass. Little did she know at the time that her son Augustine would become a priest and a bishop and be able to celebrate Mass for her at that altar. Little did she know that ordained son would keep the fourth commandment by honoring his mother’s faith and tears by eventually becoming one of the most famous Christian theologians of all time. But perhaps most of all, little did she grasp that today, 1629 years later, we would all be remembering her at the altar of the Lord in a continent that no one during her age would have even guessed existence. And all of this happened because she was faithful to investing what God had given her.
  • She was the Lord’s good and faithful servant who has now entered into her Master’s joy. And as we remember her at this altar today, we ask her to pray for us and our family members as she prayed for Patricius, Augustine and her in-laws, so that we might similarly invest what God has given us and one day enter into the Master’s joy having born fruit like she did from all that the Lord had given us to sanctify for the world’s salvation!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 COR 1:26-31

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
so that, as it is written,
Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 33:12-13, 18-19, 20-21

R. (12) Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
he sees all mankind.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Gospel
MT 25:14-30

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.
After a long time
the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents
came forward bringing the additional five.
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”
St-Monica