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Making the most of our gifts

November 16, 2017
Father Joseph Previtali

Meditation on the Last Things is the spirituality of the Church’s Liturgy in the month of November. In the liturgical year’s final month, we are confronted by the sometimes-stark reality of the Last Things: That we will die one day, that this death will be followed by our particular judgment by Jesus Christ, and that each human person will be forever be either in heaven or in hell.

In our Gospel this Sunday, Our Lord compares the judgment we will receive to a final accounting of servants entrusted with the goods of their Master. The Fathers of the Church, commenting on this passage, remind us that we all have been entrusted with spiritual gifts from Jesus Christ, some with more and some with less. They also teach us that the Master expects us to be fruitful with what we have been given. St. John Chrysostom explains that the gifts we have been given are meant to be shared: “This parable is delivered against those who will not assist their neighbors either with money, or words, or in any other way, but hide all that they have.” St. Jerome says that the goods given to the servants represent “the Gospel doctrine, to one more, to another less, not as of His own bounty or scanting, but as meeting the capacity of the receivers.”

Our Catholic tradition interprets the fruitful servants as those who use well the gift of the Catholic faith by living holy lives and by teaching the Catholic faith to others to help them live holy lives. This is possible even for simple believers. “There are also some,” says St. Gregory the Great, “who though they cannot pierce to things inward and mystical, yet for their measure of view of their heavenly country they teach rightly such things as they can, what they have gathered from things without, and while they keep themselves from wantonness of the flesh, and from ambition of earthly things, and from the delights of the things that are seen, they restrain others also from the same by their admonitions.”

Then there is the sad case of the servant who hides his gift in the ground. St. Gregory tells us that “to hide one’s talent in the earth is to devote the ability we have received to worldly business.” Origen goes further, warning us, “When you see one who has the power of teaching, and of benefiting souls, hiding this power, though he may have a certain religiousness of life, doubt not of such a one that he has received one talent and hides it in the earth.” To hide our talent means to waste our lives on things other than the love of God. This usually means that we make ourselves - our pleasure, our honor, our comfort, our plans - to be the god of our lives. We try to make ourselves the master and we forget that all that we have is a gift of the Master.

Then what happens? “Note here,” says Origen, “that the servants do not come to the Lord to be judged, but the Lord shall come to them when the time shall be accomplished.”

At the judgment, the fruitful servants are commended with joy by the Master and Judge. “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” St. Augustine tells us that the reward for fruitfulness with the goods of the Master is the perfect happiness of heaven. “This will be our perfect joy, than which is none greater, to have fruition of that Divine Trinity in whose image we were made.”

The lazy servant, who did not preach the Gospel, who buried the gift of the Master, is punished with darkness. “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “And thus for punishment,” Gregory explains, “he shall be cast into outer darkness who has of his own free will fallen into inward darkness.”

This choice between heaven and hell is made in every moment of my life. I will not live on this earth forever. I have been given gifts by Jesus Christ. He wants me to be fruitful with his gifts so that I can be like Him and share Life with Him, entering into his joy. “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Previtali_Fr. Joseph - web 100x125Father Joseph Previtali is currently studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

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