by Fr. Tommy Lane
Think of all the gifts and graces and blessings we have received from God. They are too numerous to list them all. We received the gift of life, family, friends, work, education, home, and all the conveniences of life. We can move up to a higher level of appreciation. We have received the gift of faith, forgiveness of our sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection, continuing relationship with Jesus through Mass and the sacraments, prayer, and the Sacred Scriptures, the gift of his mother Mary as our spiritual mother also. How much do we value each of the blessings we have received? What do we make of what God has given to us? Are we selfish and lazy with what God has given to us or do we put it to good use?
St. Gregory the Great (Homily 18 of Forty Homilies) interpreted the parable taught by Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matt 25:14-30) in this way. He saw the man who went on a journey as Jesus. That journey was Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Now Jesus is in heaven and while we await his Second Coming we have each been given talents to make good use of by the Lord. We will all face a judgment and we will be judged by our use of the gifts we received. [end St. Gregory’s interpretation] In the parable we can see those who made good use of their talents being judged well, “Come, share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21,23) The one who did not put the talents to good use suffered at the judgment, “throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Matt 25:30) We can imagine the shock for him. He had been lazy and made up excuses, “I heard you were a hard man….” Do we make up excuses instead of doing what we ought to?
There is always a link between the first reading and the Gospel. Something in the first reading is fulfilled or reflected in the Gospel. The worthy or perfect wife in the first reading (Prov 31) is someone who received many talents and as we heard she put them all to good use. As a result, “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.” (Prov 31:11)
The second reading (1 Thes 5:1-6) urges us to be ready for judgment. One way of being ready for judgment is to use the talents well as Jesus taught in the Gospel.
I would like to see the talents in the parable taught by Jesus (Matt 25:14-30) referring to virtues. A virtue is a good habit built up over time by practicing what is good. Therefore a virtue is something that increases as we do the right thing. Just as virtues increase by doing good, virtues also help us to do good. Virtues help us to control our passions and our conduct. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says virtues “make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life” and they “are acquired by human effort.” (Catechism §1804) In other words, just as the first two men in the parable worked to increase their talents we also have to work to increase our virtues. Virtues do not increase if we do nothing. There are four main human virtues and we call them human virtues for the simple reason that they “are acquired by human effort.” (Catechism §1804), by education and perseverance. The four are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance (see Catechism §§1803-1811).
Prudence helps us discern what is truly good in every circumstance.
Justice is giving to God and neighbor what is their due.
Fortitude is being firm during difficulties and constantly wanting what is good.
Temperance helps us to moderate pleasure and balance our consumption of goods.
In the parable the first two men traded and doubled their talents. With the human virtues we can double our talents:
Prudence guides our conscience as we make judgments.
Justice promotes harmony in relationships.
Fortitude helps us to conquer fear so that if necessary we can even face trials and persecutions.
Temperance helps us to master our will and keep our desires within what is honorable.
That really is a doubling of the talents.
There are three theological virtues. (see Catechism §§1812-1829) These virtues are poured into us by God so we call them theological virtues. They are faith, hope and charity.
Faith is believing all that God has said and revealed to us and that the Church proposes to us because God is truth.
Hope is desiring heaven and eternal life.
Charity is loving God above all things, and loving our neighbor for the sake of God.
In the parable the first two men traded and doubled their talents. With the theological virtues we open ourselves up to God and his activity in our lives:
Faith leads to professing our faith, giving witness to our faith and producing good works.
Hope purifies our activities so that they have heaven as their goal.
Charity raises up human love and perfects it like divine love.
As we grow in faith, hope and charity we grow in God's image and likeness. That is a doubling of the talents.
There is yet one more way I like to look at the talents in the parable. When we were confirmed the bishop prayed that we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is the bishop’s prayer: “Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of right judgment and courage, the Spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.” In the parable the first two men traded and doubled their talents. When we are open to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can produce the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. (Catechism §§1830-1832)
The first two men in the parable doubled their talents. The third man buried his talent and so it was taken from him. It is like that with the virtues. We are either growing in virtue or vice. We do not stand still. It is like a scales or balance. The more virtues we have the less vices we have, and the more vices we have the less virtues we have. Likewise we can allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit to lie dormant or we can cooperate and allow the Holy Spirit to bear fruits in our lives. Surely the parable teaches us that salvation is not simply a question of “once saved, always saved” or once you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior then everything is okay from then okay. Surely the parable is teaching us that spiritual growth is ongoing for the rest of our lives. It is not a question of once saved, always saved, but growing in virtue and fruits of the spirit for the rest of our lives. Let us double the talents, increasing our virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Let us allow the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity open us up ever more to God and his activity in our lives and let us allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bear fruits in our lives so that we may be worthy to hear, “Come, share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21,23)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2008
More Homilies for the Thirty-Third Sunday Year A