by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Sunday, I celebrated Mass at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas. The Gospel, as you will recall, was the parable of the talents.
I began by quoting from Princess Prayer, a blog that is written by Emily and Caroline Thompson, two 20-something women who grew up in the archdiocese. During their college years and beyond, they both served as staff members at Prairie Star Ranch, our archdiocesan youth camp in Williamsburg.
After graduating from Notre Dame this spring, Caroline decided to do a year of volunteer service in South Africa. In the Oct. 27 blog, she wrote:
“Please just don’t be stupid.
“I am pretty sure that is one of the last pieces of advice I received before leaving for Africa four months ago. Well, that is the message I got, though I’m sure my parents put it more eloquently than that.
“And I took their words to heart. I mean, I truly believe I have made good judgments so far. Seat belts. Buddy system. Avoiding raw meat.
“But Mom and Dad, I did something stupid today. Don’t worry; it only lasted
45 seconds. I didn’t get hurt. And I actually thought a long time before I decided to do it. At 3 p.m. this afternoon, I dove off the highest bungee jump in the world.
“I know it’s crazy, but I just had to do it. And I promise I won’t do another stupid thing again! Unless you consider cage diving with great white sharks stupid . . . because that’s scheduled for Saturday.
“I don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Usually, I am perfectly content sitting on the sidelines (or sleeping, rather, if you know me well). But it seems that once you do one crazy thing on faith alone, you wonder what else might be possible. I already jumped across the ocean to live in Africa for a year, so what’s another jump (way shorter than a 17-hour flight)? And as long as I’m diving
off a bridge, why not dive into a salty ocean with the monsters that have earned their own week on ‘Animal Planet’?”
The parable of the talents can sound harsh. After all, the poor third servant got only one talent, much less than his fellow servants. Why was the master so tough with him? He did not steal his master’s money.
He could have used some public relations or communication training. It was definitely not a good idea to start off his explanation of why he had failed to grow the money entrusted to him by calling his master “a demanding person” who harvested what he did not plant. It is usually not a good strategy to blame your boss for your lack of productivity.
In the end, why did he bury his talent? The servant’s explanation was in one word: “fear.” He was immobilized by his fear of failure, his fear of disappoint his master.
Jesus did not intend the description of the master in the parable to give us anything close to a complete portrait of God. We have to interpret this parable in the context of the entirety of Jesus’ teaching, which reveals our heavenly Father as incredibly compassionate and merciful.
The parable does, however, teach us a lot about ourselves. First of all, it reminds us that our life is a gift that has been entrusted to us. God has loved us into being. We are created in his divine image. We are called to know, love and serve the One who fashioned us out of love. We are not owners of our lives, but stewards of them.
The parable also reminds us that we have a limited amount of time in this world and we were created to be fruitful. It is not enough for disciples of Jesus just to avoid misusing the gifts that have been entrusted to them. For the disciple, it is not sufficient simply to get ourselves to heaven, as challenging as that may be. We are being called to live in such a way that we draw others to Jesus. It is our mission to bring others to heaven with us.
To do this, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear. Why? Well, if we have paid attention to the teaching of Jesus at all, then we realize we are not serving a harsh master. We are so loved that the Son of God gave his life on Calvary to liberate us from our mistakes, our sins, with his merciful love.
St. John Paul II made the theme of his pontificate: “Be not afraid.” We find this phrase sprinkled throughout the Scriptures. It is what the Angel Gabriel said to Mary at the Annunciation (Lk 1:30) and communicated to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:20). It is what Jesus told the disciples who were petrified by the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 6:20). It was what the angel told the women who discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning (Mt 28:5).
Our world is very good at providing us with opportunities for pleasure that can “entertain” us for a while, but leave us empty in the end. In a culture that has so much materially, we see so many signs of despair. Disciples of Jesus are called to radiate the joy of the Gospel, a joy that comes from knowing that we are loved by the One who alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. It is this joy that the world so desperately craves.
A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege to witness the final profession of vows by Sister Lourdes Nieto of the Sisters, Servants of Mary. This past Saturday, I ordained a new priest for the archdiocese, Father Gerard Alba. It was beautiful to
see the joy in both of their eyes as they made such bold commitments to follow Jesus and serve his people.
It takes a similar fearlessness for a man and a woman to profess before God their wedding vows, pledging an undying, faithful love. We see this same courage in young adults volunteering to dedicate a significant portion of their lives to serve others nearby or faraway.
I am not recommending for anyone to do bungee jumping or to swim with sharks, but I am inviting you to allow yourself to get caught up in the amazing adventure of following Jesus in the unique circumstances of your life.
If we allow our hearts to be penetrated by God’s amazing love, then we will find the courage to be bold witnesses of the Gospel in the world today.