By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
On Mulberry Street in NoLita (North of Little Italy), is the Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, the over two-hundred-year-old predecessor of the Fifth Avenue landmark. Beautiful in itself and rich in history, the building houses a magnificent Henry Erben Pipe Organ, has been in several movies and is home to one of the most interesting graveyards in Manhattan. Tours of the Basilica are available.
One of the most interesting sites is the original tombstone of Pierre Toussaint. (His body was moved to the crypt under the altar of the “new” St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He is the only layman there.) Toussaint was born into a slave family in Haiti, was brought to the United States and learned hairdressing. When he was given his freedom, he became widely known for his craft and quite successful. He was able to buy the freedom of his sister and a younger woman he later married. His works of charity and service as well as his kindness to the Cathedral earned him the right to be buried there. In his cause for sainthood, he was declared venerable by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1996.
Toussaint exemplifies the heroic rags to riches story. He began life a poor slave and entered eternal life leaving behind a legacy of success and kindness. In our day, well known figures like Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Celine Dion, just to name a few, tell how they rose from poor roots to stardom and wealth. The stories become inspirational because we see the before and after pictures. When the wealthy get wealthier there does not seem to be anything special, but when someone starts with very little and works hard their subsequent success is most often very impressive. The nineteenth century author, Horatio Alger, understood this quite well and made it the constant theme in all of his writings.
The master in today’s parable is entrusting his property to his servants but is careful to entrust to each a sum according to their abilities. He is not asking more than they can handle. They know that he is going to expect some profit on his return and two of the three act accordingly. They double the master’s investment and win his approval. The third, for fear of losing the little he had and having to appear before the master empty handed, simply does nothing with his talent and returns it to the master with no profit, no growth. He is chastised and loses the little he had. He was willing to settle for the status quo but his master was not.
It is not difficult to see the analogy to our spiritual lives. We are endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Those gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord were given to us to be used. They are the talents the Lord has entrusted to us, expecting a profit on His return. He is asking nothing of us that is beyond our capability but also wants to see us do our best. So often, the biggest obstacle is our fear — fear that we are not good enough, smart enough, capable enough or holy enough and so push these gifts aside rather than take a risk and challenge ourselves to do and be more.
In the thirteen years I spent on the faculty at Cathedral Prep, there was one question that always perturbed me. It was always a sad experience to have a gifted student ask, “What must I do to pass this course?” When you saw a talented young person willing to settle for less than his best, you could only mourn for what might have been. The “wicked, lazy servant” was rebuked not because he did not earn a lot but because he did nothing with what had been entrusted to him. He could have done better but chose not to. May we use the gifts we have received to God’s glory and our salvation.
Readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.