02 January 2021

Following a light in the darkness

I’ve never been more terrified.  Every three year old knows how I felt…pulling the covers up to my neck in hopes that the witch and the monster I could hear in the closet were going to carry me away or eat me or make me scream.  And while they always went away in the morning, when the light came on, in the dark they always had the advantage.

Like when I was young priest, standing by the bed of the old man who was not going gently into that good night.  Actually, he was cursing and swearing at everything with a vehemence as scary and as loud, as it was desperate.  And I stood petrified, as I stared in the face of pure darkness and trembled before shouts of renunciation, professions of faithlessness, and an abject rejection of God.  It had never seemed so dark.


Except when I met the guy whose wife asked him for a divorce and told him she didn’t love him anymore.  He tried to reason that it was their son’s addiction, or their daughter’s unwed pregnancy, but he knew the darkness that was destroying their marriage was somehow leaking out of his own heart.  He’d stopped praying a long time ago and only went to Church when there were lilies or poinsettias.  He’d thought he plotted his own path for so long, but now he was lost in the dark, the dark that was in front and behind and beneath and all around him.  Lost in the dark.


Like a magus (singular of magi), wandering over hill and dale with all those camels and gifts, lost in the middle of the night.  All six of them: Gaspar, Melchior, Balthazar, the guy with the broken marriage, the young priest and the kid with the closet…all wandering through the dark night of the soul, looking for the star that rises in the East, for the morning star of our salvation and the refulgence of the Father’s glory.


Their journey to the manger in Bethlehem was what our beloved Pope emeritus called the “beginning of a great procession which winds throughout history.”1


 It is our procession, through all the dark nights of our lives: a never ending struggle between the dark deceptions of Satan, with all his pomps and phantasms and the blinding love of God who rises in the East with healing in his wings.


So, listen to me, every little kid afraid of the dark: you never have to be afraid, ever again!  For the Baby Jesus, who was born for you in the manger has destroyed all the monsters and witches and banished the darkness in which they hid.  Never again need you be afraid of the dark, for it is ever but a prelude to the coming of his light and the fullness of his glory.


Listen to me, every old man on the brink of death: you never have to be afraid ever again!  For he who was born in a manger in the shadow of a cross upon which he offered his last breath for your salvation, in his dying has destroyed all death. And he has promised that those who eat his Body and drink his Blood will never really die at all, but will rise with him to eternal life.


And listen to me, you who are so lost in the dark that you cannot find your way, I say: you never have to be afraid, ever again!  Follow the Magi in this great procession of humanity to Jesus Christ, to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world.” Follow him and him alone and you will know the peace the world cannot give, until you come to love in perfect light with him who the light for ever.


“Arise, shine; for your light has come, 

and the glory of the Lord 

has risen upon you.”3

_________________________________________


1 - Pope Benedict XVI, Epiphany Homily, 2013.


2 - Pope Benedict XVI, Epiphany Homily, 2012; cf. Mt 28:20.


3 - Isaiah 60:1.

23 December 2020

Born in a Manger...

To each and every one of you, on behalf of Bishop McManus, Father Diego and myself, I wish a joyful and grace-filled Christmas. I am delighted you managed to negotiate your way through the reservation system and find your way to a seat in this glorious cathedral, all decked out for Christmas.

Including our manger scene, which has been cleaned, repaired and repainted, and I am deeply grateful to Kristine and Mary for their hard work, which you may have read about in the Catholic Free Press a few weeks ago. It really does look beautiful.  Almost as beautiful as that night in Bethlehem.


That night when a young virgin on the back of a donkey was led by her aging husband to Bethlehem, so he could sign up for the Roman census. And, as you just heard, they could not find a place to stay, so they ended up in a manger.


Manger is a funny kind of word, for it exists only in the Gospel. It means literally a feed box, as a contemporary translation of Saint Luke reminds us: “she had her first baby and laid him in a feed box because there was no room for them in the place where travelers stayed.”


Being born in a manger was probably dirty and smelly and far from as comfortable as a bed. Plus it was on the outskirts of the most out of the way town in Galilee, at a time when mothers and their children frequently died during childbirth, even in the most hygienic of settings (which this stable was not).


Galilee in the time of Jesus was a place of sickness and disease, trying desperatelyto recover from an epidemic of tuberculosis.


So why of all the times and all the places in the long history of the world, did God choose a stinking animal stable in a disease infested backwater as the birthplace of his Son?


And why of all the times and places in the long history of the world, does God choose this time in this Cathedral, in a pandemic infested in world, so confused and afraid, so sinful and sorrowful, so dark and so cold?


And therein is the mystery of this night. For he came because he cherishes us, in all our stinkiness and disease infested littleness. He came because he loves us not in our brilliance or our sanctity, our accomplishments or our power, but in our brokenness, in our littleness, in our trembling in the face of pandemic sickness, in our first fear of losing those we love, in our confusion and uncertainty, in our weakness and in our pain. He loves us.


And on this night that weak little child in the crib takes up our littleness, our brokenness and our fears and carries them to the Cross, where he joins them to his own flesh and offers them up in a pure sacrifice of love


As the prayer says tonight: “he humbled himself to share in our humanity,

that we may share in his divinity.”


He came to feel in his own heart the same betrayals which have so many times broken yours,


He came to tremble in the face of death, the way you have by the grave or the ICU,


He came to know the humiliation of falling down just like you,


He came to weep the same tears that streamed down your cheeks,


He came to bleed with the same blood that flows through your veins,


For he with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted with a human will and loved with a human heart, just like yours.


And he did so not with “the splendor of a sovereign who dominates the world with his power, but with the humility of a child.”


Born of the Virgin Mary, he was made one of us in all things except sin.


For, in the words of a great mystic:


“He who was invulnerable asked to…feel cold and heat, hunger and thirst, weakness and pain.

He who…made all things asked to be poor…

He who was entirely sufficient to himself, asked…for a heart that might be broken.”


And therein lies the definition of love and the definition of this night: that it is not in our greatness or our power or our successes that we find the meaning of life. But in being little, obedient and loving…


Like the baby in the crib and the man on the Cross.


O come, let us adore him!








21 December 2020

Mary, the Dwelling Place of God

 My homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

David loved the Lord, more than anything else. Despite his sins, despite his wandering eye, he loved the Lord with his whole heart and soul and mind and life.


And so, he wanted to build the most worthy house for God to live in. A house where people could come and visit him, listen to the Lord and adore him.


So too, the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to find a worthy dwelling place for the Lord, the Christ, the Emmanuel, God-with-us.


And the Angel, an ancient story goes, searched the earth for a worthy place for the Son of God to live in. He considered a magnificent Temple of Gold, bedecked with fine jewels and built atop ten thousand marble steps, as from its gates four rivers flowed, abundant with life. Sure this would be a worthy dwelling place for the Son of God, he thought. But it was not worthy enough.


And so the Angel flew to the peak of the highest mountain on earth, where winds blew the snows to even greater heights, and upon which the sun glistened and danced. Nowhere was the sky more blue or the heights more breath-taking. Perhaps here, the Angel thought, we could build the temple with jewels and marbles and rivers, and this might become a worthy dwelling place for the Son of God. But it was not quite worthy.


So Gabriel looked up at the heavens, where the stars twinkled and shone against a cold night sky with an unimaginable beauty, where God had so woven the distant stars together that they seemed to embrace the earth with a transcendent power all their own. Here, at last, he declared is a worthy dwelling to enthrone the Son of the living God. But it was not worthy.


Discouraged, the old story goes, the poor angel returned to heaven and begged the most high God to show him a worthy dwelling place upon the earth for his co-eternal Son.


And so it happened, that the Angel Gabriel was “sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”


For she, in her littleness, of all the great palaces and places upon the earth, was the only one worthy to embrace the Son of the Most High God as the fruit of her womb. This confused and frightened little girl, was alone full of grace. This handmaid of the Lord, who surrendered all to the will of God. She alone was worthy, and she alone was “a fit dwelling place” for the Son of God.


Which is why we call Mary “the Ark of the Covenant,” for just as in the former dispensation God and his commandments dwelled in an Ark of acacia wood and gold, so, quite literally, the Christ, the Son of the Living God lived in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, as her flesh was quite literally joined with his. And herein lies the pre-eminent reason why we call her blessed among women, for no other woman will ever experience this kind of communion in the flesh with God.


And just as when the first Ark of the Covenant was finished the the Shekinah, the Glory of God came down upon it and it became the dwelling place of God, so (you just heard) when the Holy Spirit come down upon the Blessed Virgin, Jesus came to live in her womb and she became the living shrine of the Word of God, the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant. 


This is why Saint Athanasius called the Blessed Virgin Mary “greater than any other greatness.” He prays: “You are greater than them all O, [Ark of the] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides,”


All of which is echoed in the Catechism: “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion…the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men.’”


And not only is she the Ark of the Covenant, but she is the Gate of Heaven, as well: the door through which the Son of God chose to enter the world. For, as Saint John Henry Newman tells us, “it was through her that our Lord passed from heaven to earth.”


And this door is a two way street, for just as through her Jesus took flesh and entered our world, so too she is the porta caeli, the door through which we enter heaven. As St. Bonaventure tells us that “Mary is called gate of heaven because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her.” 


Mary is the porta caeli by her example, for no one can get to heaven without imitating her example of “fiat,” of total submission to God’s will. For, in the words of the Council Fathers, as she is “the image and beginning of the Church…so too does she shine forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come as a sure sign of hope and solace to the people of God during their journey on Earth.”


Finally, Mary is our our most powerful intercessor with her Son, which is why we so often ask her to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” So, like the Magi, let us go to this beautiful lady who holds in her arms the one who is our hope and salvation. And let us entrust ourselves to her intercession, her example and her care. Let us pray this Advent, to her in whose womb Christ willed to be formed for nine months, begging her to teach us, how he might be formed in us, as well.


12 December 2020

Waiting in Joyful Hope (III Advent)

 

Simeon, by Diana Orpen,
Meditations with a Pencil (1946).

Expectantes in beatam spem

“Waiting in joyful hope.”


It’s part of an ancient prayer which the priest prays at every Mass. It’s proper name is the embolism, and it’s an expansion upon the last line of the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil.”


In it (you’ve heard it a hundred times) we ask God to deliver us from evil, grant us peace in our days and deliver us from all distress as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in joyful hope. 


What does that mean? Waiting in joyful hope?


On the one extreme is the fool, who waits when he doesn’t expect anyone to arrive. But on the other extreme is the one who waits in sure and certain hope, with bated breath, with a quickening heart and with joy!


Like Anna. Saint Luke calls her a prophet…but a prophet with a backstory. Seems she has married for seven years when her husband died and ever since then, she’s been wandering around the Temple, day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer” Oh, and one last detail: she’s now 84 years old…so she’s been wandering around the temple for fifty years, day and night, waiting for God to come.


Lotsa times, we’re a lot like Anna. Having lost what we loved after too short a time, disappointed by what life had to offer. And in our disappointment we turn to pleasure or power or internet fantasies to fill up our emptiness. But not so Anna! After she buried the love of her life, she went back to Church, where in the cold stillness of the Temple, she kept looking for God behind the shadows, waiting for him to come. She never stopped hoping, and her hope was fulfilled.


Not far from Anna stood Simeon, another senior citizen “waiting for the consolation of Israel”  Simeon is a curious name, it’s a Hebrew word with slavic roots, which means quite literally God is listening. As he was. God was listening and Simeon was waiting. A really good match.


And when he finally gets to hold the Christ child in his arms, Simeon sings a Canticle, which is the last song sung by every priest before he goes to sleep. It’s called the Nunc Dimittis and its the song you sing at the end of the waiting:


Nunc, 

Now, 


dimittis servum tuum, Domine, 

Let you your servant go in peace, Lord


secundum verbum tuum in pace:

In peace, according to your word.

And we’re kinda like Simeon too. Simeon, who was longing for rest, perhaps even eternal rest in the arms of the God he knew was listening. We don’t know what made Simeon’s arms weary and his heart ache. We don’t know why he longed to rest, but we do know he was weary, just like us.


Us, the children of pandemic, often the sons of disappointment and the daughters of discouragement. God knows how tired we get sometimes and how much we long to rest. And how in fitful sleep we wait for him to bring relief.


Simeon waited, just like Anna. And then God came. And in that nunc, in that now, gave him rest. As Simeon always knew he would.


Perhaps in his waiting, Simeon would pray David’s ancient Psalm:


I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness

in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD, take courage;

be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!


The same song sung in the voice of the Baptist in the desert: Wait! He is coming! The one of whom Isaiah prophesied: the one who heals the broken hearts, frees prisoners, wraps us in a mantle of justice and makes joy spring up like a garden spring.


And so we wait, not just for the Lord who will come at the end of time, but for the God who will come in our next breath and in every breath of our lives. The God who makes our lives a continuous Advent of expectation, a sure and certain expectation that he cares.


A joyful hope born of the assurance that he knows my name and that his love for me is greater than I will ever know. It is the love of a Father, who never stops thinking about me, caring for me, longing for me, desiring to come, to be with me, to stay with me.


For his love is a gratuitous love, of which Carlo Carretto once wrote:


“[God’s] coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue. We have not earned this meeting with God because we have served him faithfully…, or because we have heaped up such a pile of virtue as to shine before Heaven. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty. He comes in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing…when we have sinned.”


Those words, perhaps more than any others, sustained my faith as a young seminarian…for they assured me that God’s love for me is omnipotent and insatiable, even when I forget him and even when I run away.


So, as we remember his coming in a manger and look forward to his coming at the end of time, let us not neglect his coming in our hearts. For in between yesterday and tomorrow is the today of his love, the nunc of Simeon and Anna and even of you and me.

01 December 2020

Comfort and joy...

 A Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent.

One of my favorite English carols is also the oldest, dating from the sixteenth century and beginning with the words: “God rest ye merry gentlemen.” Even by the time that Dickens quoted it in
A Christmas Carol, however, the meaning of that first sentence had changed (which is why he changed it to God bless you merry gentlemen), To make a long story short, rest meant make in the sixteenth century and merry meant strong, so the first line really meant God make you strong, Gentlemen. Make you strong as he has made himself weak…God making himself a weak little baby that we might be strong…that we might know, as the refrain reminds us, “comfort and joy.”


Comfort. I don’t know about you, but I could certainly do with a great big serving of comfort right about now. ‘cause I’m really really tired of this pandemic. It’s been almost ten months and people are still dying, and I’m feeling kinda fed up. Fed up with distancing myself from people, especially the people like you, whom I love. I don’t think I’ve been hugged in since last Lent!


I spend all my time backing away from people, being afraid I will get sick and cough and be intubated and die.  And worse, that I’ll make you sick and cough and be intubated and die. And I have just about had it. And I think you have too.


Sounds like we are badly in need of some comfort and joy. Which is just what Isaiah promises: “Comfort,” he says…give comfort to my people…speak tenderly to them…” But what is this comfort? How are we comforted? At the end of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we get a clue: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…”


So God comforts us is as a mother comforts her child. And is anyone better at comforting than a mother?


I remember seeing a young couple a while back in Price Chopper with their two year old child, who was clearly as tired as I was, but was not handling it quite so well.  In fact he was weeping and moaning and swinging his arms in every direction, just trying to hit something to make those feelings go away. And as he threw his little hissie fit, his father (God bless him) tried first to reason with him (it didn't work) and then to get him to calm down with a soothing voice and a hug (which looked more like a restraining order) the poor guy did everything he could…all to no avail. Until the mother knelt down and spoke in a still, soft, tender voice and smiled at him with her arms open and he ran to her and sobbed softly on her shoulder, comforted and at peace.


Mothers are really good at comforting, and so is God: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…”


St Therese of Lisieux understood that, when she wrote of this passage: “Never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become little more and more.” 


God is waiting to comfort us as his beloved little child.  And that’s all we have to be…his little child, if we will just give him a chance.  As an oft quoted theologian once wrote: “Are you lonely?  Here is a chance to creep into the motherly arms of God and find peace.  Are you sorrowful?  You may come and put your head upon his breast and weep there and find infinite comfort.”


The close comfort of a child cradled in her mother’s arms. Close, protected and real. 


It is the comfort for which the Baptist prepares, making straight the way for Emmanuel, the God who is with us, the God who “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” The God who lets go of his infinite power, becoming a weak little baby and a man nailed to a cross, just so he can be close to us and teach us how to love.


And therein is the definition of “comfort and joy,” and why Saint Paul calls God “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort…”


Indeed, the the word Saint Paul uses for comfort is paraclesis, which means literally calling to be close to.  He is the God who who wants to be close to us, to love us like a good shepherd loves his sheep, who (back to Isaiah) “feeds his flock; gathers the lambs in his arms, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the littles ones with care.”


This is the God who is as close to us as the beating of our heart, of which Saint John writes: “…they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying out nor pain anymore…”


This is Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us, of whom we will pray in a few minutes: “come…to our rescue with the protection of your mercy.”


And he will come, for he has promised and he is a God who keeps his promises. And the comfort he brings is not just for the moment, like most of our troubles. No! His comfort is everlasting, inexhaustible, immutable and indestructible.


And all we need do is to accept it, like a frustrated little kid, stamping his feet and crying. All we need to do is to run into his arms, to tell him what makes us tremble and cry and stamp our feet…and he will sweep us up in his arms and he will give us peace…the peace the world cannot give.


That’s all we have to do. But we spend most of our time clinging to our fears and embracing what Pope Francis calls a spiritual pessimism, refusing to believe how close God wants to be to us in Jesus, how close in Holy Communion, how close in his Word, how close in his sufferings upon the cross, to which he invites us to join all our brokenness and pain…all the fears and the exhaustion of our tired little lives.


But it’s Advent, and to quote Pope Francis again, this is the time to prepare ourselves for the coming of comfort and joy, “the peace of God’s presence…[by opening] our hearts and allowing ourselves to be consoled” and to know his peace.

29 November 2020

Why do you let us wander?

 A Homily 

for the First Sunday in Advent

Why, Isaiah asks the Lord. Why do you let us wander?


I think of the three year old in the supermarket, squirming in that little seat in the grocery cart until his mother lets him run free.  And run free he does.  Down the aisle, past the apple sauce, knocking over the display of dried macaroni and running like a demon toward that tower of Oreos, beckoning to him like the promised land. That little one know what wandering away is like a bat, if you can describe anyone running that fast as wandering.


And he’s running down the aisle, because he’s learned how much fun chasing after all the bright shiny things can be. Which is fine, except that if we spend all of our time running after the bright shiny things, we we will find we have no time for what is most important…time with the Lord.


Martha learned that lesson the hard way.  You remember the story. Jesus was visiting Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. Mary, we are told, “sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said,” but Martha was running about, like a little kid in a supermarket, cooking dinner and cleaning the house and doing all kinds of stuff that just needed to be done.  And in one of the most candid exchanges of the Gospels, she turns to Jesus and says: "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" 


Jesus’ reply is spoken not only to her, but to me: ”Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."


Stop, sit down with the Lord and listen to him. Share with him the stirrings of your heart….


Advent is a time of waiting…waiting for the Lord. Listening for his still small voice. Hoping in his eternal love for you. Yet so often we are like Martha, running about looking for all the bright shiny things. So often we fail to stop, shut up and just listen for his still small voice.


For in order to hear him we need to empty our hearts of everything but gratitude. No grasping, no conniving or calculating. Just longing and gratitude in our still small hearts.


Especially, this week, just being grateful for all his blessings.


For the life which still flows in and out of your lungs without the help of a ventilator. For the blood which flows through your veins. For the thoughts you think and the myriad feelings which tremble through your limbs. For the people who love you and for those who are loved by you. For the thrill of a cold breeze, the beauty of the first snow, the sound of crumbling leaves under your feet, the smile of that little baby in her mother’s arms, for justice, truth and all the other joys  that await us at the dawn of each new day.


But with all the bright shining things, the first thing we seem to forget is to give thanks…


Which makes me think about one of the most colorful characters to walk the fields of Massachusetts in the decades following the American Revolution, Timothy Dexter.  Born in Malden, he made his first fortune by speculating in Continental currency.  His continuing success was due to a combination of audacity and incredible good luck. 


He was eccentric, but wise beyond his capacity, and never ceased to attribute his multiple successes to those who helped him along the way.  Indeed, gratitude was, in his view, the most important of virtues.


 “An ungrateful man,” he would frequently say, ‘is like a hog under a tree eating acorns, who never looks up to see where they came from.’


Remember the nine lepers in the Gospel parable who were just such narcissistic hogs?  Only one came back to give thanks, but the nine who were cleansed of their disease, cured of their disability, now set on getting on with their life, with not a smidgen of gratitude and not a word of thanks to the Lord who cured them.


And we are not so very different.  Sadly, ingratitude is so rampant in our day and age that we often become surprised by folks who are habitually grateful.


On the day I received my last postgraduate degree I practically sprained my wrist patting myself on the back.  But did I think of Miss Lucasak who first taught me cursive in third grade, or Miss Morin who encouraged us to write those one page essays with the pictures two years later.  Did I think of the Priest who first inspired me with a love for the Liturgy, or my parents who put me through College, or the inspiring professors I had come to know along the way.  Did I think of the scholars who had constructed that world of knowledge in which I had gained some small degree of proficiency, or those who built the institutions which had led me through those mysteries.


No, I thought of none of them, I never gave them a thought or a prayer.  I never said thank-you.  Just like the ungrateful lepers, I got on with my life and I never looked back.


It’s like those who were Baptized into Christ, learned to pray, made their First Communion and maybe were confirmed, but who now seem to have forgotten where the Church is, who seldom say a prayer, feed the poor, forgive, or even seek to love others as they were loved.  They go about living their lives, happy enough, but never full satisfied, getting along, but still uncertain about what it really means. For they have things to do, and they will continue to take, without looking back, and never say thank you.


And then there’s you and me.  Fickle, self-absorbed, and sinful as we are, we still try to crane our necks to at least look back.  To break the bread, to tell the story, and to give thanks as best we are able.


For that is what we do each day in this holy house: We celebrate the Eucharist, the thanksgiving: a memorial of recollection and gratitude, in which we remember all that He has done for us, from our first breath to our last, the love, the mercy, the sacrifice....the faith which makes sense of the darkest days and the mystery which defeats the deadly with eternal joy and eternal life.


Which is why, at Mass, speaking in the person of Christ himself, the priest calls out to us:  Lift up your hearts.  And we lift them up to the Lord.


And unlike ungrateful lepers or hogs, we will give thanks to the Lord our God.  For it is right to give him thanks and praise, even, in the words of a modern day poet:


"O Lord, we thank Thee for this world,

For every blessing, every good.

For earthly sustenance and love

Bestowed on us from heaven above.

Be present at our table, Lord.

Be here and everywhere adored.

Thy children bless and grant that we

May feast in paradise with Thee."

13 November 2020

Talents, and Giving them Away

Here's my homily for this Sunday.

So they received talents from their Master. And the first one, who got five talents, invested it and doubled the investment. While the last fellow, who got one talent, buried it and got nothing but the wrath of an angry master.

 

Like those servants, we too receive many talents. Oh, I don't mean the Palestinian currency of a talent (which by the way, was worth about $6,000 dollars). No, I think Jesus was talking about something more than economics, and the kinds of talents he’s really talking about are worth more than money can buy.

 

For you have been given all kinds of talents.

 

There are those you were born with. Your beautiful eyes, or long silky hair or general good looks. Or your intelligence. Your ability to figure things out so much more quickly than everyone else.

 

And then there are the talents you acquired while you were growing up. Like an easy-going disposition and the ability to get along with just about everybody. Or a sense of self-confidence mixed with humility that has allowed you to get so much done in this life.

 

And then there are the talents which you have worked so hard for. Like your marriage or your vocation or that lifelong friendship. Or the fact you have been such a great mother or father. Or that job, which for thirty-seven years you worked and sacrificed to make a success.

 

All those are the talents you have been given by God. And what have you done with them?

 

If you have used them for your own selfish pleasure or tried to work them solely for your own good, you are like the man who buried the talent in his own back yard, where under the cold dark soil of winter, it just sat there and nothing came of it. And some day, God forbid, I’m afraid your master might send you to that place where there is nothing but wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

But if you have sought to give it away (all those talents) to use them to love…then you have discovered a remarkable thing…that the talent given grows…it multiplies and will, someday, be returned to the God who first gave it to you doubled, or tripled or showing a return of a hundred fold.

 

It’s what Emily discovered when she went as a new bride with her Ensign husband to Gaeta, a small town in southern Italy where the flagship for the sixth fleet docked. It wasn’t exactly a Naval base, but the young wives of the young sailors would often rent an apartment in Gaeta, and the wives would wait (sometimes with the kids) while the ship went out to sea. 

 

Problem was, because it was such a top secret thing, not even the wives would know how long the guys would be gone, and that was particularly tough on the younger ones.

 

As Emily had experienced innumerable times over three long years. But she pushed through the anxiety and she and the three kids were now used to Gerry being gone, sometimes for almost a month. Kind of used to it, that is.

 

You see, I used to go down to Gaeta as my apostolate when I was a Deacon and then for the first year I was a student priest and say Mass for the Americans in a small Italian Church. One week I saw Emily and she looked a bit hassled, so I said a prayer for her. The next week I saw her again, and she was, to be honest, a mess.  Her hair was straggly and she just stared straight ahead while the kids ran around and screamed at each other under the pews. So I asked her after Mass how she was doing. She started to cry and told me that Gerry had been out to sea for three weeks and that she was at her wits end with the kids and the uncertainty and…she just cried. I tried to console her, but I knew it wasn’t going to help a lot. So I went back to Rome and prayed for her.

 

The next week, I saw Emily again. I was surprised that she looked so different, like a different person. Smiling and chatting with her pew mates, the kids all dressed up in their Sunday best and sitting there like little angels. So, after Mass I said “Emily, did Gerry get back this week?” “No,” she said, “but something wonderful happened.”

 

Last Tuesday, she told me, was the worst day I ever had. I was just getting ready to call the travel agency to get a ticket home when the door bell rang. It was the girl next door…she was very young and had been married for just two months ago and this was the first time her husband was out to sea.  She was crying and whining and in the mood I was in I just wanted to slap her and tell her to go away.

 

But for some reason I didn’t. With teeth gritted, I invited her to come in and got her a cup of tea.  And then I sat there and stared at her, (thinking to myself: you don’t know what its like to have three screaming kids and you’ve only been doing this for two months and you don’t know what suffering is…). But didn’t yell at the poor kid…rather, I sat there and I tried to smile, and before I knew it, I started to sympathize with her and to listen to her poor sad broken little heart…until after a few minutes (or maybe more than a few minutes) I started comforting her and all at once, for the first time in weeks, all my problems seemed so much smaller. In giving her comfort, I became comforted.

 

And ever since then, I don't really need to know when Gerry is coming back. Because I just learned an incredible lesson. When you love others, when you give it away, it comes backs a hundredfold.  And you know Father, I’m really at peace.

 

So, give it away, every talent you ever received. Invest it in others, with love, and maybe you will hear the master’s words someday: 'Well done, my good and faithful servant…come share in your master’s joy.”

I’ve never been more terrified.  Every three year old knows how I felt…pulling the covers up to my neck in hopes that the witch and the mons...