Saturday, November 12, 2011

Use it or lose it!

A flood struck a local town and a man quickly found himself trapped in his home. Being a faithful man, he began to pray that God would rescue him. As the water continued to rise, his neighbor urged him to leave and offered him a ride in his pick-up truck to safety. The man thanked him but responded, “God will save me.” The water continued to rise and as it began to fill his house, he climbed up on the roof. A boat came by and the driver said "Come on board and we'll bring you to safety." Again the man thanked them but said, "God will save me." The flood waters continued to rise and now a helicopter flew over and offered to lower a ladder and bring the man to safety. Again, he thanked them, waived them off and said, "I know that God will save me." Eventually, the waters overtook the house and swept the man away and he drowned. When he reached heaven he asked, “God, I have such great faith in you. I'm a good Catholic; I go to Mass, I pay my tithe, I say my prayers. Why didn't you save me?" To which God replied, “Hey, I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused it all. What else could I do for you?!”

At one time or another, we’ve all heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” We hear this phrase in relation to things like freedom of speech, the use of our intellect, even weightlifting and general health and exercise. In these types of situations it is easy for us to see that if you don’t use it, you certainly will lose it.

Today’s Gospel offers us another example of “use it or lose it.” A man went on a journey and entrusted his servants with his money. Upon his return, he required an accounting of them. Now to put this in perspective, it is helpful to know that a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii, and one denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage. So, assuming a six-day work week, every talent was worth just shy of 20 years wages. No small sum. So, even the servant who received only one talent was entrusted with a sizable sum. Some are troubled by the harshness of the master’s treatment of this man. After all, he did not direct the servants to invest the money. So, why should one be penalized for not having done so? We can only conclude that investment was presumed. They had been told, in effect, “Use it or lose it.”

The readings of these last weeks of the church year prompt us to look at different aspects of the endtime. Last week we were exhorted to await the time of fulfillment in readiness. Today we are told that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing while we’re waiting. We must be industrious while we wait. Use it or lose it.

The man who buried the money in the ground knew that he would be held accountable. He said, “I knew that you were a demanding person.” Thus he is punished not because he is a poor manager of funds, but because he did not take his responsibility to be industrious seriously. The same is true for us. But, instead of a talent, God has given us something far more valuable – the gift of our faith; the treasure of the sacraments; the pearl of the Gospel - and He has asked us to be industrious in investing these, in using our faith in such a way that it will increase faith in the world – our investment should show a grow of faith in ourselves, in the members of our families, our friends, our workplaces and communities. The world should be an increasingly more Christian place because of the way each of us invest our faith in it.

Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in a 1988 letter cautioning the faithful against, “the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world… How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference?” This is the question of industriousness that our Gospel raises. It asks, how do we live our lives? Do we live a life that is witness to a separation of faith from life, of hearing the Gospel but not living the Gospel? We come to church, but do we share faith at home – do we read Scripture and pray with our families, do we teach our children the ways of faith and show them how wrong the prevailing culture around them is? Do we teach them to be kind and loving and compassionate in a world that seems to have less and less of these virtues? Do we hold strong to the teachings of the Church and support them in our daily lives or are we part of the ever-growing number of people who boldly speak out against the teachings of Jesus that call us to respect life, love our neighbor, reach out to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the immigrant; to be peacemakers? Is our faith multiplying? Is our faith showing a return on its investment?

The message of our readings calls us to a few things today. First, it is important to remember that we are accountable to God for living up to the responsibilities of our life in a faith-filled way. Parents must devote themselves wholeheartedly to parenting, teachers to teaching, politicians to lawmaking and so on. Do people look at the way you live and say it is obvious that you are a Christian, or is Christian something we are only at Church?

Our readings ask us to focus on the end of time, the eventual second coming of Jesus. But, they also encourage us to endtime living now. No more waiting to live as God would have us live. Live in the Kingdom, as members of the Kingdom now – right here, today.

“Use it or lose it.” We can either use and put into practice the gift of faith that God has given us, or we can lose our access to the Kingdom He promised us. Surely we want God to say also to us when our time has come, “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Come, share your master’s joy.”

May God give you peace.

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