22 November 2017

Homily - 19 November 2017 - The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them” (Matthew 25:14). Who is this man if not Jesus Christ, and who are these servants if not his disciples? But what is this journey on which he sets out, and why does he not take us, his disciples, with him? The journey on which he set out was his Ascension into heaven where he sits now at the right hand of the Father.

This journey of the Redeemer is one that he calls each of us to embark upon; he calls each one of us to follow him, to go where he has gone before us. For this reason, he says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (John12:26). If we are found to be faithful in matters both small and large, “our future is ‘to be with the Lord.’”[1] The Lord Jesus has not so much left us or forgotten us by going to the Father, as he has prepared the way for us. He now beckons us to go on his journey with him, toward him.

Through the parable of the talents which Jesus gives today, it is clear we will attain heaven – that we will be with him – only if we use what he has entrusted to us wisely and well. “The ‘talent’ was an ancient Roman coin, of great value, and precisely because of this parable's popularity it became synonymous with personal gifts, which everyone is called to develop.”[2]

So often we think of these gifts in terms of abilities or skills that we – or others – might have. There is, of course, some truth in this, but this is not the extent of the gifts that have been given us. The more important gifts are, sadly, the ones we do not always think of:

his Word, deposited in the Holy Gospel; Baptism, which renews us in the Holy Spirit; [the] prayer [of] the "Our Father" that we raise to God as his children, united in the Son; his forgiveness, which he commanded be offered to all; the Sacrament of his Body sacrificed and his Blood poured out; in a word: the Kingdom of God, which is God himself, present and alive in our midst.

These are the gifts the Lord expects us to increase. Moreover,

This is the treasure that Jesus entrusted to his friends at the end of his brief life on earth. Today's parable stresses the inner disposition necessary to accept and develop this gift. Fear is the wrong attitude: the servant who is afraid of his master and fears his return hides the coin in the earth and it does not produce any fruit. This happens, for example, to those who after receiving Baptism, Communion and Confirmation subsequently bury these gifts beneath a blanket of prejudice, beneath a false image of God that paralyzes faith and good works, thus betraying the Lord's expectations. However, the parable places a greater emphasis on the good fruits brought by the disciples who, happy with the gift they received, did not keep it hidden with fear and jealousy but made it profitable by sharing it and partaking in it.[3]

It is in sharing the gift of faith that it grows within us. This is why an intentional discipleship of the Lord Jesus is so important for each one of us. When he returns, what will we say to the Lord? With what will we present him? Will we present him with, by his grace, a faith increased, or with a faith stifled?

When will he come again? We do not know. What we do know is this: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (I Thessalonians 5:2). “Therefore,” Saint Paul exhorts us, “let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober” (I Thessalonians5:6). “God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him” (I Thessalonians 5:9-10).

What is more, the Apostle tells us the day of the Lord will not catch us off guard because we are not in darkness. Rather, we are “children of the light and children of the day” (IThessalonians 5:5). On the day of our Baptism we were each entrusted with this light, with the light of Christ, “to be kept burning brightly” and to “keep the flame of faith alive” in our hearts.[4] If we have guarded the flame of faith and remained faithful, then on the day when the Lord comes in his glory, we will “go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”[5] There will be no reason to fear.

Without Christ the future is dark and bleak, because he himself is the Light, but we are not without Christ; we are not in darkness but in his light, because he is with us! “The Christian knows the light of Christ is stronger [than the powers of darkness] and because of this, lives in the hope that is not vague, in a hope that gives certainty and courage to face the future.”[6] We wait, then, in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Waiting for the return of Christ “does not dispense with the work of this world, but on the contrary, brings responsibilities before the divine Judge regarding our way of acting in this world.”[7] It is precisely this recognition that we will have to render an account of our lives before Christ the just and merciful Judge that gives life meaning, purpose, and direction; the purpose of our lives is to give to the Bridegroom “good, and not evil,” all the days of our lives. (Proverbs 31:12). As we reach out our hands to the poor and extend our arms to the needy (cf. Proverbs31:20), we must remember these words of Jesus: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Pope Benedict famously said, “The one who has hope lives differently!”[8] The meaning, purpose and direction of human life are all found in Jesus Christ. From him we learn that we are made by love and for love; from him, we receive the command to lead all people to him; and it is toward him that every aspect of our lives must be directed with nothing being secondary to him. If our lives look like those of unbelievers, something is wrong. This is what it means to live differently, to live only for Jesus Christ. Only in this way will we come to know the true and lasting joy and peace of the kingdom of heaven.

What does the Lord say to those servants who used wisely those talents he entrusted to them, who have developed them and have something additional to return to him? “Well done, my good and faithful servant… Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21). If we want to be filled with joy, if we do not want to be found to be “wicked, lazy servant[s],” we must live according to the mind and heart of Christ, using what he has given us freely and without concern for what it will cost (Matthew25:26). We must, as he says, give our lives away in order that we might find them.

The manner in which we live our lives does matter, and heaven is not a guarantee for any of us. Are we then to fear the Second Coming of Christ? Concerning the Lord’s return, Saint Augustine said this:

He who is without anxiety waits without fear until his Lord comes. For what sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? Brothers, do we not have to blush for shame? We love him, yet we fear his coming. Are we really certain that we love him? Or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them. He will come whether we wish it or not. Do not think that because he is not coming just now, he will not come at all. He will come, you know not when; and provided he finds you prepared, your ignorance of the time of his coming will not be held against you.[9]

If we live for Christ and for others, if we live as true servants of Jesus Christ, if we live with a genuine love of God and of neighbor, we will have nothing to fear when he comes.

No, we are not afraid of death or of the end of the world because we know that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. We know that he is with the Father and that he is also with us always in the Church, in the Sacred Scriptures, and especially in the Eucharist. Regardless of how powerful the forces of darkness may be, “no one is stronger than Christ, because he is with the Father… Because of this, we are secure and free of fear.”[10] Death holds no more power over us, for we, too, will rise again and look upon his face.

“If [we] wish to receive mercy,” Saint Augustine tells us, “be merciful before he comes; forgive whatever has been done against you; give of your abundance… These are the sacrifices most pleasing to God: mercy, humility, praise, peace, charity. Such as these, then, let us bring and, free from fear, we shall await the coming of the judge who will judge the world in equity and the peoples in his truth.”[11] Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Audience Address, 12 November 2008.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 16 November 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Rite of Baptism for One Child, 100.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Audience Address, 12 November 2008.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., Spe salvi, 2.
[9] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Discourse on the Psalms, 95.14.
[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Audience Address, 12 November 2008.
[11] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Discourse on the Psalms, 95.15.

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