Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

Saturday 12 November – 4.15pm

[Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31;  Ps128;  1 Thess 5:1-6;  Mt 25:14-30)

Our Second Reading today ends with an injunction from St Paul: So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober!  We all know that our lives here are finite – in the grand scheme of things, we’re here for a short time.  Sooner or later this life passes … as people of faith we might describe death as Jesus returning to take us to the Father’s house.  This reality is something that we should anticipate – not in a morbid way, but soberly and honestly.  It will happen.

The other readings today suggest what we should be doing in the meantime.  Both the first reading and the Gospel urge us to be people who are actively using the gifts God has given us.

I suspect many people are a bit coy about the first reading.  A capable wife, who can find her?  This opening phrase probably sets us up for a negative reaction nowadays.  But if we look more closely at the text we find a beautiful image in the poetry.  The verses we heard tonight are taken from verses 10 through 31 of chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs – that’s 22 verses.  We note that there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In the Hebrew original of our first reading, each of those 22 verses began with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  And so the author is using this literary device to sing the full praises of the capable wife, of the woman who is active, who is a boon to her husband and family, who is wise in speech, generous to the poor, a teacher of kindness;  the woman who is praised by her children, and honoured by her husband.

In other words our first reading praises the woman who uses her gifts fully;  who lives out the dignity of womanhood – a theme dear to Blessed John Paul II, expressed so beautifully in his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, on the dignity and vocation of women.

Our first reading, then, is paired nicely with the Gospel, which speaks of three men entrusted with the property of their master.  The parable compares the responses of the three slaves: some actively use the property of their master and thereby make it bear fruit and increase.  One, on the contrary, buries the property out of fear, and so it bears no fruit at all.

The ‘talent’ was an old Roman coin of great value, and it’s interesting that the title of the coin ‘talent’ has come into our language to mean the gifts we are given personally.

We can interpret the Gospel parable in the following way: the master in the story is Jesus, and the slaves are his disciples, and the talents are the gifts Jesus gives to his disciples.  What are some of the gifts Jesus has given us?  Firstly: baptism, which renews us in the image of God;   prayer: Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the Our Father, in which we acknowledge that we are God’s children;  forgiveness: a gift which is meant to be shared with all;  the eucharist: the living presence of himself in which we are united with his self-offering for the sake of mankind;  the sacraments: which bring to people God’s healing and grace.

All these aspects of our faith are the gifts that Jesus has given to us.  Today’s Gospel parable makes it clear that these gifts are to be accepted, valued and used.  As we wait for Jesus to return, we’re not to bury the gift in the ground out of fear or some other reason.  If we have received the gifts of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist, we are to use those gifts so that they bear fruit in our lives – for our benefit, and for the benefit of the world.  How sad it is that so many who have received those very gifts do appear to appear to have ‘buried them in the ground’ – where they remain dormant and unfruitful.

In the parable, the master praises those slaves who were active with their talents, such that the talents increased.  If we consider the love of God which we have received: when we live that love and share that love, it doesn’t decrease, it doesn’t get used up!  In living and sharing God’s love it actually grows in our lives and in the lives of others.  We can say, indeed, that what Christ gives us is multiplied when we give it away … like the loaves and the fishes.

The word of God, today, encourages us to a sober remembrance that Jesus will return for each of us.  We are to be ready for that – at any moment – not in fear, or sadness – but by actively making use of the gifts God has entrusted to us.  We are to be like the woman praised in the first reading: whose goodness, wisdom, strength and generosity stand to praise her forever.  We are to be like the slaves who trade with the talents entrusted to them, so that they increase in value and bear fruit.

We might ask ourselves this evening: how am I making use of what God has given me?  We ask the Lord to heal us of any fear, or anything that stops us from using those gifts for our good and the good of others, and to His honour and glory.

May our works – of using all the gifts of the Lord to us – stand to praise us for ever.