November 13, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
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 children of the night, we are not children of the darkness; we are children of the light and of the day. The importance of that, he tells us, is that Our Lord when He returns is going to come like a thief in the night. There are going to be many who are going to be caught off guard. But for those who are living according to the way of Christ, that is, walking in the way of light, they will not be caught off guard because they will be awake and alert, as Saint Paul tells us that we are to be.
If this is the case, obviously we want to make sure that we are living as children of the light. And what does that look like? How do we do it? Well, first of all, we can look at the Gospel today and see that Our Lord has entrusted each of us with certain talents and abilities, and He is going to expect that each one of us is going to bring back to Him a bountiful return. Now what we tend to do in our humanness is compare ourselves with one another. We try to size people up and we judge. We always, of course, try to make ourselves look better than everyone else; or sometimes we go to the opposite extreme and we think we are no good and we are worthless, and so then we just sit in self pity and feel sorry for ourselves. But what we need to do is look at Jesus. Quit looking at everyone else and look at the Lord. In looking at the Lord, we are going to be able to recognize that He has given us certain talents and abilities according to our own personality and according to His good will. It is not a question of who has more. It is a question of “What has God given to me as an individual, and then what is He expecting in return?”
As we can see from the Gospel reading today, He is expecting that we are going to double what He has given to us. So if you have been given, according to the example in the Gospel, five talents’ worth of ability and you add three more to that for a total of eight, and you come in to the Master and say, “I have eight talents here,” and someone else comes in who started out with two and they come back with four, it would appear that you have done much more than what they have. But, in fact, it is not true. They have doubled what God has given to them, and you have not. So it is not a question of who has more; it is a question of what we do with what we have been given. That is what the Lord is looking for from us.
As we see in the first reading today, as the Book of Proverbs talks about a worthy wife, it is not just about what a particular woman might do, it is any of us. If God has called you, for instance, to be a wife and a mother, then the question is: Are you being the best wife and mother that you can be? You have laid out for you in the first reading a pretty clear example of what is expected. If God is asking you to be a husband and a father, what kind of husband and father are you? Are you looking out for the good of your family and serving them? Or are you looking out for yourself?
What we tend to do is get ourselves busy with all kinds of things that are peripheral, things that are not important, and we completely ignore the things that are the most important. What we, each one of us, can do is look at the various things that we fill our time with and then we can ask ourselves: When we stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, what are we going to be able to tell Him? I do not think He is going to be impressed that we watched more soap operas than anyone else. I do not suspect He is going to be too impressed that we went to more football games than anyone else (or whatever it might be that are just completely useless and worthless pursuits). Certainly, there is nothing wrong with recreation, but it must be balanced. America has made recreation the priority rather than just another piece of what balances our lives.
But the top priority, as we have seen so many times and what Scripture makes eminently clear, must be God. Again, if you just simply think about what you spend your time with, you are not going to have to answer to any of those things–you are going to have to answer to God. And so whatever it is that we spend so much time doing, we need to ask: Is this what God wants me to be doing? If it is working to support your family then that is part of what God wants you to do, and therefore you do the best job that you can. But then go home. Remember that work is there to support the family, not the other way around. In some quarters of our society, certainly in some places around the world, work has become the priority. It is not. If you are called to the married life, your family is the priority, following, of course, from God Himself being the top priority. Work, while it is incredibly important, is not the priority. Again, we need to make sure that we have things properly balanced.
Each and every one of us, no matter what our state in life might be, no matter what our circumstances might be, if we are called to be children of the light and of the day, it means we need to walk in the light. And what does that mean? It means, number one and first and foremost, we need to pray. Now I have tried to tell you this hundreds and hundreds of times: It is absolutely essential; it is not an option for us; WE MUST PRAY. And I am not talking about saying prayers (those are also exceedingly important); I am talking about coming before the Lord and spending time with Him. How are we going to know His Will unless we ask Him? He is the Light that came into the darkness. If we are going to be children of the light, we have to be united with the Light. In fact, He has told us that we are the light of the world. How can we be the light of the world unless the light is shining in us and through us? The only way that light will shine in us and through us is if we are rooted in prayer. So that must be our priority.
Inevitably, as we look in our lives, we are going to say, “I don’t have time.” The devil is very shrewd and he has gotten us all exceedingly busy with all kinds of pursuits that really are not all that important. But there is a principle that you can apply: If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Busy is not going to save anybody’s soul. Busy is the work of Satan, and Satan will busy us about many things in order to keep us from what is most important. What is most important is prayer. Following from prayer, then, comes the work that we have to do. Prayer will keep things balanced. The spiritual life tends toward balance. If your life is out of balance one way or the other, too much busyness or too much leisure, the prayer is going to help you get it balanced properly. It is a constant struggle in the prayer life to find where that balance belongs, but we need to make sure that we are putting God first; and following from that, that we are doing what God wants us to do.
That is what is very important for us to understand. It is what God wants us to do, not what we prefer to do. All of us, I think, would much more prefer to be immersed in some hobby or some inane sort of thing that does not require anything on our part, rather than what we really ought to be doing. But we need to be about the work of God.
Now if we are going to be children of the light, it means also that we have to get rid of sin in our lives. The time right now is critical. We do not have time to be mickey-mousing around with sin. It is time that we get serious about it and quit giving lip service to ridding ourselves of certain things that we really know we ought to get rid of but we do not really want to–because we like the sin, because we like being selfish, because we really do not want to put forth the effort to do what we are supposed to do. Once again, if we go to prayer, God is not going to tolerate our phoniness. He is going to call us to conversion. He is going to call us to change. He is going to call us to get rid of everything that belongs to the darkness and exchange it for light.
If we are caught off guard, it is because we were not praying. And if we are caught off guard, we can be pretty well assured that when the Master returns, He will not find us being about the things that we are supposed to be doing. Like a kid that is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, we are going to start tap dancing all over the place and try to explain why what we are doing is okay. Remember that the One you are going to try to explain it to is God, Who knows what you were doing and why you were doing it. There will not be any tap dancing around the truth when it comes to God. It is just the simple truth that we are going to have to deal with.
The Lord has extended His mercy to us. He has given us the means to be able to deal with these things. If you have not been to Confession for a while, get there soon and regularly. It is a beautiful, powerful sacrament, the graces from which will help us to overcome the sin in our lives. If you are not spending time with God in prayer every single day–every day, not for one hour a week at an adoration chapel, every day–then reprioritize things in your life and make the Lord the priority. If you can, stop off on the way to work or on the way home from work, maybe on your lunch hour, maybe there is a time in the evening, whatever works most conveniently.
But again, if you look at it and say, “There isn’t any time; I’m too busy,” then let me challenge you to do one thing. Take a little bit of time, go to prayer, and ask God, “What can go? What am I doing in my life that really is peripheral, that really is pretty much worthless, that I’m busying myself with and is not Your Will?” Then get rid of it. You might enjoy it, it may well be (and hopefully is) that there is nothing sinful about it, but if it is filling up your time so that you cannot pray then it is not good. That is what we have to understand. We need to determine what our priorities are going to be. If you have time to sit in front of the TV but not in front of the tabernacle, the priorities are kind of mixed up. If we have time to follow all kinds of trivial pursuits but not follow what is most important, our priorities are mixed up. The devil then has us by the tail, and we are walking according to the darkness rather than the light.
The Lord is expecting that what He has given to us is going to be returned to Him at least double. We cannot bury it in the ground. We cannot ignore it. We need to do the works of God. That means we must pray and we must seek the Will of the Lord, and then we must carry out His Will. If we are praying and if we are doing the Will of God, when the Lord comes like a thief in the night, we will not be caught off guard because we will not be living as children of the night but rather we will be there with open hearts and open arms, awake and alert, ready for the return of the Lord, because we have truly been living as children of light and of the day.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.