Maybe you have had the great grace of having a health scare. Why is it a great grace? Well, let’s play this out: the doctor notices something in a checkup. He takes a sample of the spot and says he will call you in a few days. You go home worried–could this be fatal? What will happen? A few days later the doctor calls-yes, it is cancer. You need to call doctor so and so, a specialist surgeon, to have the spot removed and to see if the cancer has spread. So you go, but you have to delay the surgery because the doctor’s schedule. The surgery takes place, but in the meantime you have had one test after another. Yet now you have to wait to see if the glands the doctor removed had been infected with the cancer before the second surgery. If not, you are cancer free. If so, treatment starts for a pretty deadly form of cancer. Finally after weeks of agony, mentally and physically worried and exhausted, the news returns: the disease has been caught in time. Suddenly life takes on a new tone: the sun seems a little bit brighter, family time, even if the people have difficult personalities, is a great joy. Trips are planned–life is meant to be enjoyed and lived! What a relief as well if provisions had been made through some sort of insurance to cover the costs of all this.
This is sort of what our Lord is allowing us to experience today in the readings. In the first reading we hear of the wife who has been so diligent in her duties that her husband is able to sit at the city gates and learn from the elders. He has given her a few tasks to do, and she has gone above and beyond. She has been driven by a great fear and reverence for the Lord. She knows her duties and tasks are sacred, so she doesn’t waste a single moment. This is not a story about being a workaholic or making one’s wife do all the work. Rather, it is that driven by a great fear and reverence of the Lord we will not allow a single moment to be wasted. The woman made provision for her family through her labor of love. We too are called to store up provisions for eternal life.
The Psalm would have been chanted and sung with great joy as the Israelites ascended to the Temple. We too ascend when we come to Mass. We are present once again at the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary where our Lord gave His very life so that our sins would be forgiven and we would be able to share eternal life with him. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord” we hear. To fear the Lord is a sense of reverence and love, not wanting to displease one we know who loves us beyond comparison. It is a call to be truly repentant.
In the Gospel we hear of a master giving talents to three workers. A talent would have been equivalent to about 16 years of daily wages. In other words, say a salary of minimum wage, for one year times sixteen. That’s a fairly large sum of money. Two of the servants invested the money and gained some return. What happens with the third servant should not be ignored, because it can serve a powerful lesson to us, just the same way that a health scare can really jolt us into changing some aspect of our lives.
“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!” …And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”
That is not the response you or I desire to have when we go to our judgment. Saint Gregory the Great proposes that the sum total of five talents are the five senses. We can look at it this way: do we use our senses in the way that God calls us to, or do we use them to dishonor God? The words we say, what we enjoy listening to or watching, how we treat others, how we treat our Lord. We hear so much about people needing therapy or rehab. Well, we need rehab for our souls—our senses need to be trained to be always tuned in to eternity. The liturgy helps with this—here we experience something which has been handed down to us—we are drawn out of our daily lives to encounter God. The veil between time and eternity is torn open. There is harmony and beauty. The priest wears sacred vestments and uses sacred vessels. Our Lord works through the hands and the person of the priest and changes the substance of bread and wine into His body and blood. What seems very normal is in fact something beyond our grasp. We have a certain discipline when we come to Mass—we stand, sit, and kneel at certain times. What a difference this experience is than the sense of never being caught up with phone calls, emails, texts, tweets, facebook messages, etc. The Liturgy draws us into the harmony of heaven and these other things draw us into a sense of anxiety, helplessness, chaos.
This Gospel is a call to conversion–our Lord died on the cross a horrible death, not because he had nothing better to do. Our first parents had rejected God and thus we needed a saviour. He did it so that we would not end up separated from God forever in hell. He paid the price for sin. He allows us to be covered in the life giving blood from the cross: in baptism original sin is wiped away but unfortunately we are still attracted to sin, but thankfully our Lord has given us the sacrament of confession to help us fight against sin and to grow closer to Him. In the Eucharist, which we should only receive if we are in a state of grace and a practicing catholic He nourishes and strengthens us. It is in the sacraments that we are able to cling to our Lord on the cross. How we live our lives does in fact matter very much.
This should strike us to the heart because as we profess in the creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. The modern world works very hard to numb our souls from this supernatural reality of the resurrection. We are told that only the here and now matters, do what feels good. We are in a real battle, and the opponent, the devil, wants nothing more than the total destruction of our souls. One of the ways he seems to be deceiving us is this collective numbing to spiritual realities. Or to tempt you and I to think “later”. Well, later might never come. We never know when God will call us. We worry about our retirement and insurance, but do we take time to tend to our immortal soul which is made for eternity?
What about those souls who die in a state of rejecting Christ, those who die in a state of mortal sin without repenting of it? They reject God’s merciful love–God respects our free will and will allow us to live eternally this way. More properly speaking–to suffer for all eternity in hell. Jesus warned quite often about hell, the fires of Gehenna, the furnace of fire. The chief punishment and pain is eternal separation from God, because it is in God alone where we will find our happiness and fulfillment of our longings.
At the final judgment our souls will be reunited with our bodies: those who have spent their lives glorifying God in their bodies and souls will enjoy the eternal delights of heaven–such happiness that were it not for the grace of God they would explode with joy. Those who spent their lives ignoring God, rejecting Him, will enjoy the fruits of their lives on earth as well–eternal separation, eternal loneliness and despair. Absolute joy and happiness or absolute despair and suffering. When you or I have bad days in this life, we always hold out onto some hope that the bad time will end. In hell the suffering never ceases and in heaven the rejoicing never ends.
Our Lord gives each person life. He has died on the cross for each person. He has instituted the sacraments for each person. He gives us a vision about the goodness that is life with God, and the stark warning about hell. Let it be like that health scare: we should reject sin and instead seek to be truly alive. In the words of Saint Augustine, “Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them.” The Gospel should drive us to amend our lives, to come to confession, especially if it has been a while.We should never be afraid of confession. Only one person has ever said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
There was a prayer often said in days past, deliver us, O Lord, from a sudden and unprovided death. With lamps filled with the oil of charity obtained by a sacramental and virtuous life, we await the bridegroom. Then the love of our Lord will cast out all fear should we get that dreaded doctors report, for provision has been made.