When I was in secondary school we had mass every morning. It was the old Latin mass with the old lectionary, which was not very imaginative. For weekday masses there was just a handful of gospels that they kept repeating ad nauseam. One of the most frequent was today’s gospel about the talents. Maybe they felt we weren’t really using all our talents which ties in with what the experts claim today, namely, that we only reach to about 10% of our full potential. Add to that the motto for our school, also in Latin, which was ‘disce prodesse’ meaning ‘learn to be useful’. So the message was loud and clear: make good use of the talents and gifts that God gave you!
Today’s parable points forward to the Last Day, with a focus on the behaviour that will stand up to scrutiny in the Final Judgment. I find it rather sobering that right now we are writing the book of evidence for that final day. Sheila Cassidy is one of my heroes. She originally came to fame for her book called ‘Audacity to Believe’ where she recounts her trials, including torture, in Chile under the Pinochet regime. She is a devout Christian and is now working in England as a doctor in palliative care. In another of her books, ‘Sharing the Darkness’ she says this: “I weep that there are so many missed opportunities for comforting, so many smiles withheld, hands untouched, kind words unspoken.” Coming from such a wonderful woman, this statement makes me a little nervous.
Recently on Facebook a nurse, who has cared for the dying for many years, revealed the top five regrets people make on their deathbed. She doesn’t give her name but there is a ring of truth about these regrets.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. Most people had not honoured even half their dreams because they lived the life others expected of them rather than their own.
I wish I didn’t work so hard. This was more a man’s complaint but was also true of women. They felt they had missed out on their children’s youth as well as the companionship of their spouse.
I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep the peace.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many people didn’t realise the full benefit of old friends until it was too late. And so they let golden friendships slip over the years.
I wish I had let myself be happier. This is also a common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.
Just in case you are beginning to feel uncomfortable let’s get the context right. First of all we have a very understanding a compassionate God who has journeyed with us all the way to this place. And this God who has carried us in the past is not about to abandon us now or in the future. Secondly, if we haven’t reached our full potential it may not be all our fault. One reason why many people do not use their talents is because they have been belittled in the past. To belittle is to put someone down, to make them feel small, lessen their sense of self worth. There are many ways of demeaning another person: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted.
The antidote to belittle is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves. And if we don’t find it here, then God’s grace is there. This was the consoling part of what the above-nurse mentioned. She says that people grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality and that every single patient found their peace before they departed – every one of them! That sounds like God’s companionship is most obvious when it’s needed most.
We still need to look at today’s gospel and ask why was Jesus so hard on the third servant. Notice that he is not condemned for doing something bad. His only mistake consists in ‘not doing anything’: he doesn’t take risks with his talent, he doesn’t get it to bear fruit, he preserves it intact in its safe place.
Jesus’ message is clear. No to conservatism, yes to creativity. No to a sterile life, yes to the active response to God. No to the obsession for security, yes to the effort that dares to transform the world. No to a faith buried under conformism, yes to work committed to opening up paths to God’s Reign. Albert Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today we are living in new and different times, facing unparalleled challenges. We can’t be doing the same things and expect different and positive results. Global warming will not disappear if we choose to keep burning fossil fuels.
What’s called for today is ‘creative searching’, ‘boldness’, ‘risk-taking’, ‘listening to the Spirit’, things that make everything new. The great sin of Jesus’ followers would always be not daring to follow him in a creative way. It was the failure of the third servant and it is our failure too if we fail to step up to the plate and transmit light and hope to the problems and sufferings that shake the lives of men and women of today. The main task of the Church today can’t be to conserve the past, but to learn to communicate the Good News of Jesus in a society shaken by unprecedented socio-cultural changes.
Sunday 16 November 2014