Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Matters Most is not What You’ve Been Given; What Matters Most is What You DO With What You’ve Been Given




(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on November 19, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 25: 14-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday 2017]

I just finished reading a short (but excellent) book entitled, “Littlest Suffering Souls—Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ,” by Austin Ruse.  It tells the stories of three extraordinary children: Audrey Stevenson, who had leukemia and died at the age of 7; Margaret Leo, who suffered from spina bifida and died at the age of 14; and Brendan Kelly, a Down syndrome child who also had leukemia and died when he was 15.

Here’s how Austin Ruse describes what these children had to face during their very short lives:

What strikes you first about their stories is how much [these children] suffered. We are talking about intense and long-lasting physical and mental pain, excruciating suffering, the kind that would make a Marine call out for his mother in his final moments.Both Audrey and Brendan received invasive treatments of chemotherapy, steroids, spinal taps, and eventually bone marrow transplants. They lived long stretches of their lives without immune systems where danger lurked behind every errant microbe.Margaret Leo had titanium rods inserted into her back in order to slow the bending of her spine. Instead the rods bent. To this day they sit on her father’s office desk to remind him of what a bad day is really like.Audrey’s parents had to order her to talk about her pain so they and the doctors could help. Margaret would rarely mention her pain and mostly smiled through it. In the deepest pain, Brendan tried to make his parents laugh so they would not worry about him. Most children are not like this. We adults aren’t like this.

Now in many ways they were normal children.  Brendan, for example, loved sports and a good party; Audrey loved to play with her sisters and her friends.  But, at the very same time, they all exhibited extraordinary faith in horrific circumstances—as well as a deep love for Jesus, the sacraments and the Church.  And their faith and love affected many of the men and women who came into contact with them—including a lot of people with big jobs in the federal government (which, as we all know, can use all the extra faith and love it can get!).  That’s because Brendan’s parents and Margaret’s father know lots of powerful and influential people “inside the Beltway”.  Brendan’s mom and dad once worked for President Bush in the 1990s and Margaret’s father is vice president of the Federalist Society—an organization of lawyers and law students in Washington, DC that includes some Supreme Court justices.

In fact one of those Supreme Court justices actually keeps a picture of Margaret on the desk in his office to this day.  That’s how inspired he was by her faith and witness.

All of this illustrates the point I want to make, which also happens to be one of the lessons we learn from this gospel parable we just heard from Matthew 25: What matters most is not what you’ve been given; what matters most is what you DO with what you’ve been given.  Brendan, Margaret and Audrey were all given a cross to carry—an extremely heavy cross.  They could have responded to that cross with hatred and anger and self-pity and despair (which would have been understandable, given the intensity of their suffering).  But instead, they chose to do something positive with what they had been given.  They used their physical crosses to grow closer to Jesus, to encourage and inspire others, and to help other people through their offered-up sufferings and prayers (prayers which had some very powerful effects, including some physical healings).  As the author, Austin Ruse, put it:
God placed these little suffering souls in these places and in this time for a reason and one of those reasons is so their stories can touch the souls living in the grand houses of Great Falls [Virginia, where Brendan lived], McLean [Virginia, where Margaret lived], Paris [where Audrey lived] and beyond.
Including, now, Westerly!

Which brings us to the parable of the talents that we just heard.  One footnote here as I begin: A “talent” in first-century Israel signified a weight; which means that talents differed in value depending on what they were made of (either gold or silver or copper).

Obviously a talent of gold, for example, was worth more than the same weight of copper.

We’re told in the parable that the first servant was given five talents by his master, the second was given two and the third was given one.  But that’s not what’s most important in the story!  What’s most important in the story is what they DID with their talents.  As I said a few moments ago: What matters most is not what you’ve been given; what matters most is what you DO with what you’ve been given.

And the third guy in the parable did NOTHING—which is why he was condemned by his master!  The other two used what they had been given and were rewarded for their efforts.

This parable reminds us, first of all, that there are two kinds of sins that we commit in this life: sins of commission (when we choose to do something evil) and sins of omission (when we fail to do something good—something we could do and should do).

Most people when they go to confession only confess the first kind—that is to say, their sins of commission; very few confess their sins of omission.  And yet they are just as common!  If we fail to defend our Catholic faith, for example, when we could easily do so, we commit a sin of omission; when we know someone is being falsely accused of something and we remain silent, we commit a sin of omission; when we fail to pray regularly, we commit a sin of omission; when we fail to say “thank you” to someone who does something nice for us, we commit a sin of omission.

This was the kind of sin the third servant committed.  Notice that he didn’t DO anything that was grossly immoral.  He didn’t use his talent to buy illicit drugs or to pay for a prostitute.  He simply did nothing with it.  That was his only fault—but obviously it was a big one.  It was a big one because the talent was given to him with the understanding that it would be used.

This parable also reminds us that God expects us to use our talents (here meaning our “gifts”) for his glory and for our neighbor’s good.  Some of us may have many “talents”—many gifts—of this kind (like the servant in the story who had five), others among us may have less.

But, remember, the quantity doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter to God, as it didn’t matter to the master in the parable.

What matters most is not what you’ve been given (one talent or a hundred); what matters most is what you DO with what you’ve been given.

So what are you doing with your talents? 

Let me close now with the words of a song that I came across earlier this week online.  It caught my eye because the last line of the refrain is similar to the theme-line of my homily.  The song is entitled, “What You Do With What You’ve Got,” and the refrain goes like this:

It’s not just what you’re born with
It’s what you choose to bear
It’s not how big your share is
It’s how much you can share
And it’s not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It’s not what you’ve been given
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Like those three children—Brendan, Margaret and Audrey—may we use everything we are given in this life (our gifts and yes, even our crosses) for the glory of God and for the good of our brothers and sisters.  Amen.