We are rapidly approaching the conclusion of this liturgical year. The Church like a concerned Mother uses the end of the year to wake us up and help us focus on the end of time. In today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul warns us that we do not know the specific time or moment of the Lord’s return, but we do know that he will return. It is also possible that we will die before then and suddenly see him face to face. In either case, to deny the reality of the “last things” is to live in the dark, in unreality. The Church urges us to be awake and to live in the light of the truth.
What’s more, the final events may well occur unexpectedly, “like a thief in the night,” or like the onset of labor pains. For many months a pregnant woman knows that this blessed state will end with the birth of a child. And yet she is surprised by the onset of labor. She may say, “Oh, is this really it? Is it time?” Likewise, we all know that we shall die, perhaps suddenly, perhaps today. But we still go about our life as if we have years to go, regardless of our age or the state of our health. We will be surprised by the “birth pangs” that lead to our eternal life. However, as faithful followers of the Lord Jesus, we are not to live in fear but in expectant faith, knowing and trusting in him whom we look forward to meet.
The parable of the talents is a primer on being properly prepared for the Lord’s return. Three servants are entrusted with different gifts and are accountable to their master on his return. Two of the servants wisely invest what they were given, but the third, out of fear, buries the gift he was given and therefore has no increase. While the parable speaks in terms of material wealth, the most important riches with which the Lord entrusts us are his overflowing generous love, his life-giving word, his wisdom, his call, his gentle encouragement, his mercy, his very presence with us and in us.
We are all given gifts “according to our ability.” Because our gifts are not all the same, we may be tempted to compare what we have been given to what others have received. We might complain that they not only seem to have more, they also seem to use their gifts more freely and joyfully. Or, when we see others who have less, we may get puffed up in our pride, as if we merited the gifts we have been given. These comparisons are useless distractions. The Lord gives talents or gifts to be used for the building of his kingdom, not to give us a basis for discrimination. The right use of the Lord’s gifts both benefits others and transforms us. We become more like him, and through us his love, his presence, is revealed in the world. At least, that is his plan. The danger we must avoid is that of allowing fear to enter in and block the whole process.
We do not want to be like the third servant, burying our talents rather than sharing them, multiplying them and giving life to others! When we give in to fear, we think – wrongly! – that we have received little, that we have little to give to others, and that we must jealously clutch the little we have. Such a narrow and self-centered attitude only isolates us and makes us unready for the Lord’s return.
We can learn a similar lesson on the proper use of what we have received as we ponder the Book of Proverbs’ beautiful description of “a worthy wife.” Like the two faithful servants in the gospel, this praiseworthy woman is not afraid. She dedicates herself to doing good, investing her talents for the benefit of all. A man with such a wife is greatly blessed; “her value is far beyond pearls.” He entrusts his heart to her. This woman represents each of us; she represents the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, in joyful service of her Groom, the Lord. Each of us brings honor to the Lord when we serve him freely, joyfully, generously, diligently. We are not to be concerned with saving for ourselves, for we have a Husband who provides everything for us and entrusts his Heart to us. He has loved us first. Therefore we can, without fear, spend his love for the sake of others, joyfully looking forward to seeing him face to face.
In what ways do I avoid considering the reality of the end of time? Do I fear my own death or do I live in faith? Am I willing to invest my God-given talents for the benefit of all?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.