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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thirty Third Sunday of Year (A)

 (Proverbs 31:10-13, 19s, 30s; 1st. Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matt.25:14-30)

Today’s parable was relatively long and quite detailed, with special emphasis being given to the lot of the servant who received one talent and did nothing with it.  Some people might think that what he did with the one talent is irrelevant because he was unfairly, if not unjustly, treated from the beginning by being given only one talent while others had much more given them; and so, feeling somewhat sorry for this servant who “only received one talent”, they harbour a kind of grudge against the master of those servants and don’t really want to learn anything from the parable. 
However, we should take care not to project our own selves into the picture and rather try to objectively appreciate the value of a talent in those times long-ago.  One talent was equivalent to 6000 denarii, and a man and his family could live adequately for one day at the cost of 2 denarii.  So you see that he who received “only one talent” had actually been given sufficient to provide a man and his family with a living for over 8 years!  He had, in fact, been entrusted with a not-insignificant amount of money!!
People of God, have nothing to do with the prevalent greed and self-love which lead certain vociferous protagonists to cry foul wherever some seem to have more than others; avoid those who bristle with pseudo-sympathy for what they like to call ‘under dogs’ who have not -- in their estimation -- been personally endowed with all the talents, or given all the opportunities and advantages, that others seem to enjoy.  Have nothing to do with such ‘defenders of the downtrodden and the poor’, I say, for -- without doubt -- all of us have, indeed, been most generously endowed by God for the task of bringing forth fruit for eternal life.
We need, therefore, first of all, to ask our heavenly Father for wisdom – personified as ‘the perfect wife’ in our first reading – and then calmly turn our attention to the two faithful servants of the Gospel so as to learn from their experiences.
Their master said to each of them on bringing their profit 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.
Such words make us all feel glad, happy for and happy with those servants.  And if we attend more directly to the nature of that happiness, we can recognize three  aspects mentioned or implied in those words:
Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’
“You were faithful” implies the joy, the peace, the happiness of a good conscience.  “I will give you great responsibilities” implies being able to use one’s talents and abilities to a still greater extent, which is what we call the fulfilment of our being.  However, even so great a natural happiness is not able to fully captivate our attention in this parable because of those last words:
Come, share your master’s joy!
Ultimately the joy of a good conscience will lead not only to our natural fulfilment but even -- thanks to Jesus -- to joys that are beyond our natural capacity, to the eternal joys of our divine Lord and Master in heaven:
Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master’s joy.’
Let us now, for just a few moments, compare those three aspects of happiness and you will realise how wonderful is that invitation to enter into the master’s joy.
We all know something of the innocent joys and deep happiness we, as human beings, can experience at times, many and various as they can be: sometimes we have the joys of success and achievement; most of us treasure the happiness of love and family; we can appreciate too the peace and contentment of truth known, and of beauty recognized and appreciated.   Many such earthly types of joy and happiness truly delight us and can give us a sense of deep fulfilment; and yet, they are also so easily linked with sorrow and sadness.  There is a famous song, “Plaisirs d’Amour” which tells of the joys of love which swiftly pass away, and of its pains and sorrows which endure.  That might be a jaundiced, poetic, view, but, nevertheless, we all know that, in this world, true love is inevitably accompanied by its own particular sorrows.  That is why so many modern people opt only for pleasure, and avoid love: they want loose relationships, for pleasure without any binding commitment, so that if and when too much sorrow looms ahead, they can escape from the relationship and take up another source of comfort and pleasure that promises further security -- for a time, at least.  Yes, earthly love and family, though they are such deep and essential joys for us, nevertheless, they also bring with them their own particular and inescapable sorrows.  Moreover, our work, at best, offers us successes that are quite limited; and, of course, our moments of fulfilment are always liable to be obscured by the threat of competition and accompanied by the ever-present danger of failures such as redundancy.
The joy of a good conscience, however, is not in any way connected with sorrow and is therefore, joy of a superior kind; moreover, it leads to another unsuspected joy which can also be ours: that is, a share in God’s eternal happiness which totally transcends all earth’s joys.  But how can it come about that we, who know ourselves to be so weak and fragile, are yet capable of receiving and appreciating something of infinite and eternal happiness?   Despite all the outstanding advances of modern scientific thinking and industrial techniques, we still can hardly begin to conceive the immensity of the universe God has created and sustains: how then can our poor hearts expand to be able to accept the corresponding fullness of His infinite happiness which can be ours to share?  The Psalmist gives us the answer:
I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide; (Ps 81:10)
How shall we open wide our mouth?  Listen again to the Psalmist:
I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. (Ps 119:32)
So that is, indeed, the way we can prepare ourselves to receive the divine happiness that can be ours: we open wide our mouth by walking, indeed by  running, in the way of God’s commandments; and He then  enlarges our hearts so that He might subsequently fill them with the riches of His blessings:
I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (Ps 81:10)
It has often been derisively objected against the teaching of eternal happiness, that it must be very boring.  ‘Not that happiness itself is boring’, such people would add, ‘but surely eternal, everlasting, happiness must become, eventually, boring’.  Let me counter such a remark with a question: could eternal, everlasting, pain be found boring?  Of course not! … real pain does not allow anyone sufficient respite ever to think they might be bored!  The cry ‘I am bored’ is a luxurious expression -- neither logical nor purposeful -- of a spoiled child, or of an idle adult indulging his or her self-love.  And yet, its derivative ‘eternal life must be boring’ does induce many to put aside the thought of heaven, and it does help to explain why the Church’s teaching on, and Jesus’ promise of, heaven means so little to unthinking souls.
Therefore I would like to help you do a little thinking about heaven now: not intellectual work, so much as considering, going over, experiences that probably most of you have known several times in your life.
I want you to simply try to call to mind one of the happiest experiences of your life.  Do you remember how quickly the time passed by? … you were so happy it seemed to last but a moment, even though hours, days, or even perhaps years could be a truer measure.  Now that gives us the key to heavenly happiness!   For even though time is earthly, part and parcel of creation where things are always changing, nevertheless, there are occasions -- yes, even here on earth -- when time seems to disappear, melt, in the presence of happiness.   How much more then is the question of time utterly irrelevant to eternity where there can be no time!  Eternity is not endless time, eternity is timeless; time has no meaning for, no reality in, heaven, before God’s Presence.  St. Peter tells us this in a pictorial way in his second letter:
Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
Therefore for those who are called and being led by the Holy Spirit to share, with Jesus, in the blessedness of God’s heavenly and eternal Kingdom, time can, occasionally, be temporarily set aside before being, ultimately, totally obliterated by the influx of divine joy.  Think People of God!  You have had plenty of experience here on earth -- which is, so to speak, a time-zone -- telling you that when you are bored (!), weary, anxious, or worried, time can drag ever so slowly, while, on the other hand, when you are happy it seems to fly!  Therefore, even here on earth, time is relative.  Now, heaven is a time-free zone, that is, in heaven time is totally irrelevant: not only because we won’t notice it, but because it has no being, no reality in itself; and, most certainly, it has no place whatsoever in the bliss of God to which we are invited in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
People of God: each one of you has been richly endowed by God and each one of you is unreservedly called, and seriously offered the chance, to share in God’s eternal blessedness.  Don’t think little of the gifts with which you have been endowed, don’t be fool enough now – or finally, wicked enough -- to ignore a happiness which can transfigure your whole being, making you eternally fulfilled and happy beyond all imagining! It can, most assuredly, be yours in Jesus. Therefore, let Him lead you now -- in the Church and by His Holy Spirit -- so as to be able, ultimately, to enter with Him into the presence of the Father Who, Jesus assures you, will greet you with those sublimely fulfilling words:
Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

32nd. Sunday, Year (A)

(Wisdom 6:12-16; 1st. Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13)

You have heard today’s parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins many times, People of God, and you might therefore be inclined to think: “Oh, not that again”.  If, however, you have too much reverence for the Lord and respect for His Holy Word to think in that way, you still might be predisposed to welcome a homily that would deal with other matters such as important and/or  contemporary issues in society, or good causes that cry out for greater attention; it is, after all, much more interesting to hear something new, even if you do not fully agree with it, than to hear, and go over yet once again, something you think you already know very well.
However, Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the wisest men this country has ever produced, once remarked that Christians have much greater need to be reminded of things they have already been taught than they have to hear of new things.  Following his advice, therefore, let us look at the parable once again.
Who is the bridegroom mentioned in the beginning?
The kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
We know for sure that it is Jesus, from the answer Jesus gave when He was once being questioned about the behaviour of His disciples:
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. (Mark 2:18-20)
And John the Baptist gave most beautiful testimony to Jesus as the Bridegroom, when he declared (John 3:27-30):
A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.
Jesus, therefore, is the Bridegroom come to prepare for the wedding feast of the Kingdom of Heaven.  However, there is, strangely enough, no mention of who the Bride might be; let us, therefore, think about her.
One of the most momentous and uncompromising statements ever made by Jesus concerned the relationship between a man and his wife:
Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'  and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)
Man and wife, Bridegroom and Bride, become one flesh.  The Bride for Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, is Mother Church; that is, saved humanity, all those who will be one with Jesus and with each other as members of that ultimately glorified, heavenly, Body of which He is, even now, the Head.   As we read in the letter to the Ephesians:
May (we) grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (4:15-16)
And at the heavenly wedding-feast, all those true children of Mother Church, all those living members of the Body of Christ, will be recognised as children of God the Father because of their sharing in the flesh of Him Who is both the heavenly Lord of Mother Church and the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father.
Therefore, the ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom represent the whole of mankind called to become the Bride, called to enter with Christ as members of His Body into the wedding-feast of Heaven; and of them, five – half their number -- behaved so irresponsibly and foolishly that they were found to be unfit to enter into the feast.
For, although all ten of the virgins grew tired, just as we ourselves, indeed, would become somewhat tired under such circumstances, the irresponsibly foolish ones never once, during the whole of that protracted delay, ever thought about their lamps and their diminishing oil supply.  Those lamps were quite small, not being meant to light up the way so much as to indicate that someone was attentively waiting, ready and willing to welcome the Bridegroom; and so, their shortage of oil showed up quite brutally that the hearts of those five virgins had wandered elsewhere, on to other matters of personal interest and distraction; for, their having become cold with regard to the much-anticipated public arrival of the bridegroom and his entourage was made manifestly clear to all when they were unable to provide a warm welcoming light to greet Him: indeed, a most glaring insult to the Bridegroom, and also a betrayal of the careful preparations previously set in place by the whole community.
Many hearts, Jesus said, indeed -- near the end – most hearts, will grow cold through having to wait without receiving signs.   Jesus was acutely aware of this human weakness even in the case of those near to Him and of whom He had expected more (for example: Martha, but not Mary):
Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you  would see the glory of God?’  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man (Lazarus) was lying.   And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.      And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ (Jn. 11:40-43.)
How movingly does Jesus there, as it were, assure His Father that His love for Him was not dependent on signs being given!
I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.
Jesus, as you will well remember, once Sadly however, very many Christians do grow tired of waiting for the Lord to manifest His presence and His power in their lives; and, not being sufficiently established in virtue, are found to be too proud in mind, too impatient in temperament, and too weak in faith, to be able to continue waiting for the Lord with humble expectancy.   Jesus once said:
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Mt 24:11-13)
And in these our days when lawlessness does most surely abound, many Catholics want to experience something happening in their lives; they want themselves to be seen, or at least to see themselves, as achieving and doing something rather than apparently wasting their time and fraying their temper by merely, and above all, invisibly, loving the Lord and humbly waiting patiently for Him.  If He does not quickly show His hand, so to speak, by bestowing tangible signs or blessings, they stop looking for Him and turn to proving their own virtue and winning the comforting approval of men by jumping onto some bandwagon of popularly approved good works
Here we should try to get things clearly into focus. Good works are always, as the words say, good of themselves.   However, good works can easily be diverted so as to proclaim the goodness of the one doing those works; they can also be dwelt upon in such a way as to provide the doer with a warm feeling of self-approval, self-esteem; or again and finally, they can be an escape from more demanding spiritual effort.  And for someone who has grown tired of waiting for the Lord to show Himself in their life, the relief afforded by activity, not to mention the warm glow of self-satisfaction it can produce, and perhaps above all, the subsequent and most welcome praise of others, can be very dangerous substitutes for the real though not manifest presence of the Lord Himself.
Now, Jesus wants, above all, our personal love; He wants us to make personal love for Him the centre and the aim of our lives; He in no way wants us to be centred on doing good, ostensibly for Him, but really for our own relief, self-esteem, and/or public appreciation.
said (John 15:13):
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
Now, love for Jesus has grown cold when a Christian is unwilling to die to self for His sake: when waiting patiently for Him is too like dying and therefore unacceptable; when the distraction of being busy, when the affirmation of one's own worth and the achieving of a good reputation, are considered to be both more desirable and necessary.  In such cases, the works remain good works in themselves but they no longer bear witness to a true love for Jesus; just as the foolish virgins, though they were waiting together with the wise virgins, could not trim their lamps when the Bridegroom arrived and were unable to welcome Him with sincere love.  Those five foolish virgins could not light the flame of personal love for Jesus because He, personally, did not occupy, fill, their minds and hearts so much as the distractions they had followed and the self-seeking which had motivated them.  And this type of thing, carried, however, to its worst extreme, once led Jesus to say to the Pharisees:
You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
People of God, seek, above all, to love Jesus at all times and in all circumstances.   When you are In Church, try to keep your eyes lovingly fixed on Him: listen to His Word, seek to appreciate His teaching; receive Him in the Eucharist out of a desire to sincerely open up your whole life to the purifying flame of His Spirit; and pray that you might be enabled to love Him ever more and serve Him ever better.  For, only work motivated by such personal love and reverence for Jesus can bear fruit ripe for eternal life.
The love of many will grow cold.  The five irresponsibly foolish virgins were not able to light a flame of love for the Bridegroom on His arrival.  What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.  Think on these things, and may God’s blessing be with you.