By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
I suppose most college students have at least one moment that began as an embarrassment and ended up being a great lesson in life.
While I was living at the North American College, I managed to amass a fairly substantial phone bill. The telephone process was simple: We would call the switchboard (there were no cell phones or Skype in those days), and he would connect us. At his desk, there was a machine that recorded how long we were on the phone, and the next day a bill would appear in our mailbox. I had no intention of not paying the bill, so as soon as I received a check, I wanted to clear it up.
The complication was that before checks could be cashed, the business manager had to approve them. On receipt of a check, I proceeded to his office to have it approved. Unfortunately, I did not heed the fact that this was outside of office hours.
So, when I knocked on his door to request the signature, he let me know that I had come at an inconvenient time. Feeling embarrassed, I blurted out, “If you sign it, I’ll pay my phone bill!” That is when my lesson began.
He simply, but firmly, reminded me that I was asking him for a favor so that I could meet my responsibilities. He let me know that I was making it sound as though I was doing him a favor when, in fact, I had been done the favor by the institution that allowed the telephone calls. He signed the check but only after I was reminded that I had received yet another kindness.
I imagine the servant in today’s Gospel to whom one talent was given felt the same way when he presented his one talent back to the master. He simply repaid what was given to him and did nothing to help his master’s money grow.
Of course, the contrast with the other two servants who doubled their master’s initial investment highlighted his own shortfall. By his own words, he knew that growth would be the measuring stick but still settled for the status quo. As I learned from the business manager as a seminarian, just doing what we have to do is not enough.
It is interesting to ask people what they do because of their faith. Very often, the response will be that they go to church regularly followed by a list of what they don’t do: I go to Mass, I don’t steal, I don’t lie and I don’t commit adultery. In other words, I obey the commandments.
But, is that not the same as simply paying our bills? Not being evil does not make us good or holy. Going to Mass is not an end in itself but a vehicle to receive the grace to do so much more. Going to Mass and feeling as though the work is complete is like filling a car with gas and then parking it permanently. Just as we fill the tank so that we can take a journey, so too we ask for grace to put it to use. The sacrifice of the Mass is what God does for us. How we use that grace is what we do for Him.
Traditionally, the measuring rods we use are the works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead.
This concept is neither new nor unfamiliar. We are promoted in school because we progress in intelligence and ability. We add to our workout and exercise regimens because we get stronger and more capable. We get promotions at work because we display ability and competence. Even children’s video games award success by admission to another level of play.
In our daily lives, we are constantly being challenged to raise the bar on our self expectations, to accomplish one goal so that a loftier goal can be presented. So too are we challenged to grow in our faith life. Simply following the commandments means we are not sinners.
Through baptism and confirmation, God has invested in each of us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, He gives us the grace with which to act on those gifts.
Enough is not enough when we are called and equipped to do so much more.[hr]
Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25: 14-30 or Matthew 25: 14-15, 19-21[hr]
Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.