Reading I (Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31)
Reading II (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)
Gospel (St. Matthew 25:14-30)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that we are not in the dark, that we are children of the light, not children of darkness and of night, and therefore we need to conduct ourselves as children of the light. He tells us that we do not need anybody to tell us about specific times and places and dates, all these different things, because if we are truly living as children of the light, we are going to have our eyes open and we are not going to have to worry about those things. And so where we need to put our efforts is in doing what we are supposed to do right now because he tells us also that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is useless to look forward and say, “Well, maybe the Lord is going to come at this time or that, and so right around then I’d better make sure that I’ve got myself in order.” But rather, what he is telling us is that we need to make sure we have got ourselves in order right now and everyday.
That is exactly what Our Lord is getting at. He tells us in the parable in the Gospel reading about the master who gave various amounts of talents to his servants and then he went away on a long journey. The servants knew that he was going to be gone for a long time. But note the way the Lord talks about how the man with five talents handled it. He said, “Immediately, he went off and made another five.” He began immediately using the ability he was given to try to improve and increase that ability. The same was true with the man who had received the two talents. But the man with the one buried it in the ground and simply awaited the day that the master would return and did nothing with it. That man was condemned.
If we, looking at ourselves, simply goof around now with the ability God has given to us – we do not put it into practice, we do not try to improve and increase not only our ability but our holiness – if we have got our priorities wrong, we are going to be liable to condemnation. If at the last moment when we think that because the Lord might be returning we had better make ourselves look pretty good, do we really think God is going to be fooled by our nonsense? We cannot fool the Lord. He knows that all we did was on the last day try to make everything look impressive while, in fact, we did not do anything with the ability He gave to us for many years. We need to start now and put ourselves to the task. Not for any selfish reason, not because we want some kind of gain or because we think that the Day of the Lord is at hand or whatever it may be; but rather, simply because He is the Lord and He is the One who has given us the talents and He expects that we are going to use the talent and that we are going to at least double what He has given to us. The reality is that we have much more capacity than simply doubling what He has given.
Now there are two things we need to be careful of. One is to be cautious not to be comparing ourselves with others. As Our Lord made very clear, the talents were given to each person according to his ability. So one was given five, one was given two, and one was given one. What if the man who was given the two talents would have said, “Well, what a rip-off! I didn’t get five. I didn’t have as much ability as that guy does.” And so he starts to feel sorry for himself and falls into self-pity and just not even try because of the jealousy and the envy in comparing himself to the ability of the other. What good does it do? God knows who each one of us is and He knows the amount of ability that He has given to each one. He is going to hold each one of us accountable for what He has given and for what He expects.
So, for instance, if God has given to one person an ability to be a college professor, a nuclear physicist, a rocket scientist, or whatever it may be, and He has given to another person an ability that is not intellectually or academically as great but has given that other person an ability to work with their hands or great ability to put themselves to whatever task might be at hand, God is not going to ask the second person why he did not become a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist or a college professor. Nor is God going to ask the college professor why he did not put himself more into doing handyman things or working with his hands or doing abilities that maybe he did not have. It is not a proper comparison. God is saying, “I have given to each one a different ability. Both are very important and both are very necessary.” We cannot compare one to the other and say that one is better than the other or one is greater than the other. They are different but they are both very important. We need to have college professors and at the same time we need to have people who do all of the other tasks. And so we cannot be making false comparisons.
And it is usually one way or the other with ourselves. We either like, in our pride, to compare ourselves with everyone else and think that we are better than they are. Or, in a sense of false humility (which is nothing but pride, once again), we compare ourselves to everyone else and we think that we are not nearly as good and we get angry because we do not have as much ability as the other one. What we need to do is simply accept what God has given to us and we need to use it. If God has given us two talents instead of five, then go out and make two more. It does not matter how much God has given. If we think about it, if the man who was given the five talents went and buried them and the man who was given two talents went out and used them and made two more, when the master returned, the one who had been given five still would have five and the one who was given two would have had four; and still, even after doubling what he had, he would have had less than the one who had five. But the one who had five would have been condemned for being a worthless, lazy servant who did not use the talent God gave. Even though, raw-talentwise, he still would have had more than the one who doubled the talent, the one who doubled the talent would have been blessed, would have been given greater responsibility, and been welcomed into his master’s rest. The other one would have been condemned. And so it is not a question of how much ability we have; it is not a question of comparing ourselves with others; it is a matter of accepting what God has given and putting it to full use.
Now the other side that we have to be careful of is to make sure we are not just simply putting up a façade. The first reading makes that point very clear using the example of a wife. We are told that the husband of a good wife is blessed and we are told about all the virtues of a good wife. And then we are told something that is very important: that charm is fleeting and beauty is going to be gone. In our society, continuing on with that same example, we tend to tell women that they have value only in their looks. If they make themselves up a certain way, if they put a ton of paint all over their face, if they make sure they do not eat very well and exercise until the cows come home so they have a little body that looks a certain way and their face looks a certain way, then they have value. That is garbage – pure and simple garbage. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that women are the single most beautiful creatures that God has created. There will be no argument about that. But that is not the talent of a woman – that she happens to be beautiful – that is all going to go away.
Just think of the Day of Judgment, if the second most beautiful woman that God created (the most beautiful woman, Mary, is already in Heaven) stands before Him and says, “But, Lord, You gave me great beauty so I flaunted it all over the place and I made sure that everybody saw how beautiful I was!” Where do you think she is going to end up? God gave that woman a ton of talent and also great beauty, and if she did not use the talent but rather simply tried to make herself look like some little beauty queen, she is going to wind up being condemned because she did not use the talent God gave her.
All we need to do is look at a very simple example, not so much of a wife but of a mother. Ask yourself what child in human history has ever loved his mother simply because of her physical beauty. Not one. Not a single child has ever loved his mother because she was physically beautiful. He loves his mother because of who she is, because she is interiorly beautiful regardless of the physical attributes that woman might have. And so it is that Scripture tells us about the husband of a good wife. It makes it very explicit that it is not her beauty that is going to bring him happiness all the days of his life, but rather her ability, her talent, what is on the inside – not what is on the outside.
It is about time that all of us begin to recognize that we need to stop living as children of the darkness. Whether it is making women have value only based on their physical attributes, or whether it is putting up a façade and making ourselves look good only for selfish gain, or whether we are trying to impress the Lord because we think that the end is at hand and therefore we need to make ourselves suddenly look good, or any other false or selfish reason that we might put forward, that is living as children of the darkness. It is living as children of the night. If we are going to live that way in this world, we are going to endure the darkness for the rest of eternity. The man with one talent was thrown into the darkness where there was wailing and grinding of teeth because he did not accept the talent the Lord gave to him and improve it.
The Lord has given to each of us great talent, wonderful abilities, each one of us with a different ability than the other so that we can put those abilities at the service of one another. And He expects that we are going to use those abilities to improve upon them and to be able to put them at the service of one another for the greater glory of God and for the edification of our neighbor. More than that, God has given to each one of us immense interior ability and He expects that we are going to use that and improve it by living lives of prayer, good works, and holiness; that we are going to take the ability and the talent He has given to our souls and that we will be able to return that at least double. But really, for each one of us, that should be much, much more than just a double of what God has given to us.
We need to make sure we are truly living as children of the light. Jesus is the Light. We need to make sure that we are living as members of Jesus Christ, that we are going out into a world of darkness and we are shining like the light the way the Lord told us we have to do, that people will see our good works and they will give glory to the Father. That is what He is expecting of us. Not that people will see our physical attributes and give glory to us, but rather that they will see good works coming forth from a heart and a soul that is filled with love, that is united with Jesus Christ, that is growing in holiness, that is putting itself at the service of others, that is living as a child of the light. That is what we have to be about. Not for any selfish reason, not for any vain reason, not for any empty reason, but rather because we recognize the Master who has given to us the talent and that He is going to expect a reckoning of that talent on the day He returns. We want to be able to give to Him at least double of what He has given to us. Not for a selfish reason, but rather because He is the best of masters, because He is the Bridegroom of our soul and we want to be the very best spouse, that we want to give to Him the greatest happiness all the days of our life. Not because of any fleeting beauty or charm, but because of true virtue which is going to shine like a star in the midst of darkness. That is what Our Lord is going to be expecting of us and we need to be applying ourself with all of our heart to serving Him to the best of our ability, to take what He has given to us, to improve it, and to give it back.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.