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I’d like to start off with a prayer relating to our subject matter, 2+2=5. How can this absurd equation, featured in George Orwell’s novel 1984 as an example of a totalitarian state’s lie masquarading as truth (and which is also considered by some in academia these days as a trailblazing concept; go figure) inspire one to do better in following our Lord? I’ll explain after the prayer:
Dear Lord, you had a definite purpose in mind for me when You created me. Help me to better discern what that is, that I may fulfill it and do Your will as fully as possible, for my good and Your glory. Keep me from getting caught up in the devil’s snares of envy and sloth in serving you. Help me to be the best person I can be in your eyes and to strive constantly to love You with all my heart, soul, and strength and my neighbor as myself. Amen.
(Incidentally, if you find it helps, you can substitute your name for “person” in this prayer as well!)
Recent Mass readings in the church cover what has been called the parable of the talents in Matthew’s Gospel, Ch 25:14-30 and a similar one called the parable of the Ten Gold Coins from Luke’s Gospel Ch.19:11-28. They deal in part with God's gifts for each of us and how we respond to Him.
For those of you not readily familiar with these parables, the gist of them is that there are servants each given valuable coins by a master (in Matthew’s Gospel) and a nobleman (In Luke’s) who then go away for an extended period of time. When these two men return they ask each servant how they managed these riches.
In Matthew’s account the servant given 5 talents has doubled the amount and is thus rewarded by his master. The one with 2 likewise. But the servant who only has one buries it in the ground, and gives it back to his master, who gives him a stinging rebuke and punishment for not having done anything else with it!
(It’s interesting incidentally how the word “talent”, used then for a precious coin, refers to our God-given abilities today!)
St. Luke has a slightly different take on this in that he mentions 10 servants all given the same single coin at the outset, rather than just 3 as in Matthew’s Gospel, but one of them makes 5 with it and another makes 10.
In Luke's Gospel, there is still one servant who has not even tried to make more, but just gives the one coin back to his master. And as a result he is given a similar rebuke, but without punitive measures mentioned other than losing the coin that was given to him in the first place.
A footnote in the Ignatius Study Bible, (a great resource by the way), covering Matthew’s parable suggests that “The master rebuked his servant for more than laziness—he was wicked. The servant was presumably insulted when the master entrusted him with only a single talent (25:15), while others received more. Despising his master, then, he refused to trade with—or even invest—the talent, lest his master should benefit from his stewardship. The parable thus warns against sloth that is fueled by envy”.
Thus we can infer here that it’s a better idea not to brood over what God has or hasn’t given you. If perhaps you feel annoyed that our Lord has only given you 2 talents, speaking here of natural gifts and abilities, where others got more, you can still turn them into 5! That’s where our crazy equation comes in.
How? By taking those 2 talents and striving to at least double them and even to give God back a little more! If not 5, try 4 ½ perhaps.
Even if you’re not sure what your talents are there are always ways you can advance God’s kingdom, particularly in these treacherous times, in prayer and in helping others with their spiritual and/or material needs where possible, for example.
Note here as well that the master praising the servant with two talents in Matthew’s Gospel makes a point of acknowledging that that he is being rewarded for having been faithful over little things, so he will be given much more.
As we read in scripture, the master says “You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:23).
This suggests to me St. Therese’s Little Way in its reference to being faithful over little things. The famous Carmelite nun St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that whatever we do for God need not be particularly spectacular in the world’s eyes. It is more important to be faithful, to do everything out of love for God, even the smallest tasks!
In other words, the janitor who makes sure that his workplace is really clean and tidy gives as much, if not more, glory to God than some corporate Big Shots, politicians, or other “heavy hitters” who are not performing their duties out of love for God and neighbor but rather in a lukewarm or corrupt selfish manner.
Many times I’ve been tempted not to do my best, allowing envy, sloth, and despondency to corrupt my otherwise good intentions with a false humility.
In effect I’m saying to myself in such moments “I’m never going to be as good or as blessed with God’s gifts as so and so, so why bother with putting in extra effort or maybe even any effort at all?”
This is where the parable of the talents comes in! Maybe I’m not as sharp, maybe I don’t have as many talents to start off with, like the servant in Matthew’s Gospel who had 2 instead of 5. Maybe I only have one.
Nonetheless, God has entrusted that talent to me in some way and doesn't want me burying it in the ground, figuratively speaking, by living a life of dissipation, anger, and envy at other’s successes.
Remember also that we are to avoid sins not just of commission but omission as well. And what do we confess at Mass? That we have greatly sinned in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.
Also, Keep in mind that whatever you do, if you are sincerely doing it for God in loving obedience, He, as has been said, will not be outdone in generosity ultimately! A life lived with Sanctifying Grace in this manner, in staying close to God is one that will reap you the ultimate reward, heaven, where there is no sorrow or envy and there are no crosses to carry.
Prayer, the sacraments of communion and confession, and good reading by and about the saints all can give you spiritual nourishment, to help you on your journey with Jesus, especially in these troubled times. Many great books are available online, as well as in paperback or hardcover!
(I realize, sadly, that many church doors are locked in this pandemic era. However, you can at least make spiritual communions when regular communion is unavailable and ask God for His help to sincerely repent of your sins until you get a chance to go to confession again.)
Even if your honest attempts at sanctity seem to be hopeless or pointless at times, they won’t be in God’s eyes. And he is ready to help you with your burdens with His grace. As our Lord says famously in scripture “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
This becomes easier the more you focus on St. Therese’s little way to do whatever tasks you have at hand as best you can out of love for our Lord! And don’t fret if you’ve not been able to or desired to do so.
God doesn’t wish to cast you out into Hellish darkness like the servant called wicked and lazy who’s buried his talent in the ground in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 25:26). When you stumble, get up again as many times as is necessary, asking for his forgiveness for those times you do fall.
As long as your effort to do better is sincere, one talent can become two, and two four, or maybe even more? Again, with some extra effort, how about five?
It is important in this regard to concentrate on discerning and doing God’s will for you, not on what talents God has or hasn’t given others, lest envy makes you resentful or despondent as mentioned earlier. And for those times you feel like a complete loser, give that to God in prayer and in your own words as well in true humility.
Didn’t our Lord Himself experience those moments (and still does I suspect even to this day) of sorrow from not being able to save more souls due to their stubborn attachments to wrongdoing?
Don’t be afraid to give Him everything, including your foibles and failures and let Him make use of those to help you grow spiritually and give Him glory in any case.
When you offer up your sufferings to God, you can also help not just yourself, but other people you may not even know on their often arduous journey towards Eternal life!
And remember that in our home for Eternal Life, in heaven, we will all have an abundance of talents (that is to say eternal joys and abilities) and all eternity to share them with God and with each other!
Keep your eyes in all these matters on the prize of eternal life with our Lord in heaven. Instead of being cast out into the darkness as mentioned above where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (presumably in Hell; Matt 25:30) may you then hear instead upon your passing from this life something more akin to these words instead from Matthew's Gospel (25:23): “Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”