Homily 11/17/02 Fr. Edward Fride Christ the King Parish Ann Arbor, MI
I am not going to preach about my wealth of experience with the first reading [Prov. 31:10-31]. My wife is two thousand years old. She’s more perfect than I can possibly hope to be on this side; and a lot of times when looking at her I feel like Joseph must have felt. So we’ll stick with the Gospel.
The fact that the unit of currency used in this Gospel is the same as the English word for capacity or ability, to have a talent, has usually resulted in this Gospel being preached as a sermon on volunteerism. “Here’s what you should do to serve other people: you should not bury your talents; you should share them.” And there’s a certain amount of legitimacy to that. But what is Jesus talking about here? What is the greatest gift that He has given to us? A gift that we have the capacity to use or the capacity to ignore. And what gift, if we choose to ignore it, ultimately will we lose?
There’s no greater capacity given to the human being then the capacity to enter into relationship with the Triune God. Every other ability, capacity to serve, etcetera, that we have is minimally important compared to that. Our capacities that enable us to live out what Jesus refers to as the Second Commandment are gifts from God. But our capacity to live out the Great Commandment, the First Commandment, that has to be the heart.
This Gospel is most regularly horizontalized. What should we do to serve better? How can I serve my brothers and sisters? How can I love them the way Jesus wants me to love them? All of those things are good. All of those are fundamental aspects of our life with God. But they’re built on a foundation; they’re not the foundation. The foundation itself is that each of us is given this wondrous capacity to have a deep personal, intimate relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And if we don’t do that, it doesn’t matter what else we do. If we don’t pursue what should be first in our life, that is when we run the greatest risk of hearing Jesus say to the angels in our presence, “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth”.
It is no accident that Jesus uses the phrase here that He also uses in the parable of the Great Judgment at the End: “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into the Joy of your Master,” is what He says to those who were the sheep. And they were judged sheep in that parable because of what they had done with respect to the Second Commandment, but the presumption is how they fulfilled the First was what gave them the power to do it. To fall more deeply in love with Jesus Himself, that He who alone can lead us to the Father may do so. That He who fills us with the Spirit may do so. That then becoming more and more His, we can fulfill the Second Commandment. And with that servant’s heart, feed Him when He is hungry, cloth Him when He is naked, visit Him when He is alone. But first we have to have the foundation.
The capacity we have to know God is a wondrous gift, a gift that is almost always minimally used by us. Jesus, for two thousand years, has been filling His Bride with men and women of God who show us exactly what’s possible: show us what it means to fall so deeply in love with Jesus, that Jesus Christ Himself is the most real person in their lives. Can we say that? Can we say that it would be easier for us to believe that the person sitting next to us does not exist than it would be for us to say that Jesus Himself does not exist? There are saints who said that, because for them it was true.
Were they given something that we were not? No. They simply took more advantage of what they were given. Saints who experienced deep, amazing relationships with God were frequently asked by those around them, “Why don’t more people do this and get this?” And one of the great masters of the spiritual life, or I should say mistresses, Teresa of Jesus, every time she was asked that question, simply responded: “More people don’t have it because more people don’t want it”. More people don’t go for it.
What do we want? We do what we want. If I say, “I want to get to know Jesus” and I spend no time with Him, then the bottom line is, I don’t want to get to know Him. If I want to know Him then I choose to do those things that will make it possible. Otherwise, I’m just kidding myself. I’m not choosing what I know. I can say I want to know Jesus, I can also say I want to win the lotto, but what do I do practically speaking? How do my values govern my choices? If Jesus Christ is the most important person in my life, what practical steps do I do to see to it that I fall more deeply in love with Him?
And the content of those steps is not a great mystery. The Church has been teaching for two millennia, if you want to come closer to Jesus, here’s what you do: go to Mass as often as you can (at least on a daily basis), read the “Book,” spend time on your knees before Him, get to know His Mother, adore Him. Plead with Him to open your heart more and more to His gifts and His grace. Plead with Him for more of the presence of His Spirit. Plead with Him to lead you more deeply into the presence of His Father.
These are all practical things that we can do. But what do we actually do? If we don’t take time to pray, if we ignore the capacity to come here and receive Him, which is the most perfect, most efficient way we can possible get to know Him, then we need to ask ourselves realistically just how much do we want to get to know Him?
The gifts are laid out before us as this wonderful banquet. Do we come in and feast? Or are we just reassured by the fact that we know the banquet is there if at some point we get hungry enough to go for it? What do we do to take advantage of what Jesus Himself lays before us?
To the one who had the five, the five more he earned were given to him, the same with the two. It’s a simple way of saying that our relationship with Jesus is a hundred percent event. We give ourselves totally to God; He gives Himself to us. He reciprocates our response. He invites us in the first place, but in the mystery of our free will, leaves us free to walk away if we want, or to make a totally minimal response.
We are about to celebrate the wondrous feast of Christ the King, which the Church established as a way of proclaiming to all the world the absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ over humanity, over civilization, over the Universe. We have a week to reflect on just how much is Jesus Himself King in our lives, and just what does that mean? And may He not be King in our lives the way (with all due respect to the UK people in our midst) the way the Queen is Queen in England… suitable for trotting out on special occasions but no practical impact in our life whatsoever.
Does He rule in us? It’s amazing to have a totally Benevolent Dictator, Who is dependent on your will. He wishes to rule, He will rule only as far as we choose to let Him. Which is the only way it’s possible for us to entertain Hell as a possibility. He gives us the freedom to ultimately choose against Him, and to hear that “Throw this useless servant into the outer darkness”. On the other hand he gives us the capacity to know His reality in a way that is beyond words to describe. Which is what happens to all those great saints when they experience it. What was it like when you experienced Jesus in that way? They all say, “We really can’t explain it”. They try. They write volumes trying. But the gift of what’s possible with Jesus is more than we can imagine. And I’m not talking about Heaven, that’s a different category of imagine. I’m talking about here.
When Teresa says that it’s possible to have Jesus in your life in a way that is more intimately present than a man and a wife can be together, that’s not a small thing, that’s a huge thing. To say how real He can be: the sense of His love, the sense of His presence, the sense of His constant guidance: that’s what’s made available to us. That’s the great treasure that we should not bury. Because if we bury it we just rob ourselves of what we could have had here, as well as rob everyone else of what we could have been for them. Jesus gives us Himself because He loves us so much, and then He leaves it up to us to choose what to do.
As we prepare to celebrate “Christ the King”, let us make a choice about what to do. Let’s take a little time every day this week pleading with Jesus that He would reign more completely in our lives; that the reality of His Kingship would be known to us, for He is our King. Let us treat Him like it.