The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Homily: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Note:  Once again, as an aid to our parishioners in advance of the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, I try to demonstrate how these changes in language will help us better understand the strong connection between what we pray, what we believe, and how we live the Christian life. In doing so I have been aided by the homiletic notes provided by our diocesan Office of Liturgy.

Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps 128; 1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30

As I’m sure you all know by now, in two weeks, on the 1st Sunday of Advent, we’ll begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Today I’m going to focus on two things: the parable we just heard [Mt 25:14-30], and a few of the changes we’ll encounter. You see, there’s a strong connection between the two, and I trust I’ll be able to make that connection.

As for this parable of the servants and the talents, it seems to be often misunderstood, largely because of the word “talents.” Many seem to think the parable is simply about using one’s talents and gifts wisely, sharing those talents, making the most of one’s abilities. And I’ve even listened to a few homilies that said exactly that. But I really believe this represents a too narrow reading of the parable.

When Jesus spoke these words, a “talent” was a specific amount of money. Indeed, it was worth 6,000 drachmas, a considerable sum. The parable is less about using the human gifts God gave us, than it is a dramatic lesson about God’s judgment, especially His judgment of us Christians. Forgetting this, we can overlook a couple of important things.

First, the servants are entrusted with something of extraordinary value, something far greater than such gifts as musical talent, or intelligence, or athletic skill, or any other personal ability. No, this is a special gift. God has entrusted them, just as He has entrusted every Christian, with His treasure of grace and mercy. In other words, He has given us a share in His Divine Life. This gift, more valuable than anything else in our lives, is entrusted to us through our baptism and continues to be nourished in the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church.

Now, for reasons we don’t understand some people seem to receive a greater share of this Divine gift. Some among us are remarkable saints while others, perhaps most of us, seem to be somewhat less blessed. But, as baptized Christians, all of us have received this valuable gift. How did Jesus put it when asked about John the Baptist?
“…among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” [Lk 7:28]

And that, we hope, will be you and me…the least, and yet greater than the greatest of the prophets. We have all been given something absolutely extraordinary. It has little to do with skill or ability in any purely human activity; rather it makes itself known in how we carry the love of God Himself into the world. For we have been given God’s greatest gift, the gift of His Holy Spirit.

The second thing in this parable we often overlook stems from the first. It’s something we’ve heard Jesus say before:
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” [Lk 12:48]
God invites us to understand that He expects this gift of His to bear fruit. Despite the fact that this gift is the all-powerful Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, you and I must still accept it. We must respond to it. Just as the creative Word of God, having become one of us, humbled Himself by allowing His creatures to nail him to a Cross, so too the Spirit puts Himself into our hands.

We can accept Him and let Him transform our lives, and take part in the coming of the Kingdom. Or we can reject Him out of fear or cowardice or timidity or laziness. God allows us to choose. We can bury His gift and do nothing with it. But when He comes to us, as He certainly will, and asks us how we have used His gift of the Spirit, His gift of Divine Life, what will we tell Him?

You see, my friends, when God judges us it is not our human talents and abilities that will separate us, one from another. It is our use of His greatest gift that will turn us into saints.

Talent, then, sometimes doesn’t mean talent. Words make a difference. And as I’ve looked at some of the different words we will soon be praying at Mass, I have come to realize how true this actually is. Yes, words really do make a difference. Let’s just consider a few of the changes to the responses that form some of the liturgical dialog between priest and people.

When the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you”, we will now respond, “And with your Spirit.” [2 Tim 4:22; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 2 Cor 13:13]

This offers us a far deeper meaning, something well beyond the ordinary conversational “And also with you.” From our parable of the talents, what did we come to understand? That God’s greatest gift is the gift of His Spirit. And so with this response we tell the celebrant:
“Yes, praise God, for the Lord is with us today. And we pray too that you have accepted His gift of the Spirit, that His Spirit fills you with His Divine Life, that His Spirit is with your spirit.”
Later, as the priest offers the gifts of bread and wine, we will now respond with: 

“May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”

“…his holy Church.” Just that one word – holy -- has been added. Or perhaps I should say, in the past, that one word was deleted. For in the Latin Roman Missal, from which all these translations come, we find the words, “Ecclesiae suae sanctae” – His holy Church – for the Church is and always will be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Why had that one word been omitted from the earlier translation? I don't know. But just this one word reminds us what God calls us to be both both individually and together in the communion of God’s Church; we are called to be holy, to be saints.

Then, just before the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, in a brief dialog between priest and people, we hear the words, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” [Ps 100; 1 Chr 16:1-36], to which we now respond,“It is right and just.”

Right and just: two simple, one-syllable words that encapsulate the two great commandments; for it is right to give thanks and praise to God, and justice to our neighbor -- two words that tell us how to use the invaluable gift God has given us. We thank God for the gift. We’re not to bury it, but to unwrap it completely, to open that gift by doing what it right, what is just, by loving God and neighbor.

Because we proclaim this as we begin our liturgy of the Eucharist, our liturgy of thanksgiving, we’re reminded of the important connection between the Eucharist and Justice. To receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and then to go out into the world and act unjustly…well, this is worse than burying the gift.

The Centurion: "Lord,. I am not worthy..."
And, finally, right before Communion we’ll now respond with: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” [Mt 8:8]

“…under my roof…my soul shall be healed.” These words, too, make a difference, highlighting the connection between Christ’s Eucharistic presence in the Church, under this roof, under His roof, and His presence under our roof, in our lives and in our homes, the domestic Churches. It reminds us too that our greatest need, the world’s greatest need, is for spiritual healing, the healing of souls.

And as with all these responses, the Scriptural roots of the Mass are brought more clearly into focus.

The words we pray do make a difference, don’t they? We’re all called to open our hearts and minds to the deeper meanings behind the words we pray at Mass, and how we live them out in our lives. These aren’t new words; rather, they’re ancient expressions of the never-changing truths of our faith. 

This faith, this gift, expressed in the Creed we profess, begins with the word, Credo, “I believe.” And when we pray it together here, it makes us the “We” of the Church, the communion of believers.

You see, it’s all of one piece: the gift, the words, Scripture, the Eucharist, our lived faith.

And so, let us pray that when we are judged, the Lord will turn to each of us with the words we long to hear…“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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