Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Eyes Of The LORD Are Upon Those Who Fear Him, And Hope For His Kindness.

Memorial of Saint Augustine,
bishop and doctor of the Church
Reading I
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world
to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world
to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification,
and redemption,
so that, as it is written,
Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.
Today’s reading picks up from yesterday’s discussion about true wisdom in relation to the Cross of Christ and applies it to the Christian disciples of Corinth.

As a clear example and proof of the power of Christ’s weakness, Paul cites the Corinthian Christians themselves. They are living proof that salvation does not depend on merely human resources. If they experience salvation, the credit must go completely to the Lord.

Most of the early Christian converts did not come from the class of intellectuals, from the politically influential or from aristocratic families. By the standards of the world, they were not considered among the more intellectually gifted. This only emphasises the power of Christ’s message which the powerful were not able to overturn - and still cannot overturn.

God has called not the wise and the rich and the powerful to build his Kingdom but the poorly educated and the economically weak. He has chosen “what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”. He has chosen “those who are nothing at all show up those who are everything”, Paul tells the Corinthians.

This does two things: it proves that the deeper wisdom is in the Way of Christ, while at the same time what the Christians do achieve is the work of God in them and not something they can personally boast about. “It is due to God that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom of God.” To recognise that wisdom we need the inspiration of God through his Spirit. These Christians, low down in the social scale, are the evidence of God’s power and greatness. God has become their wisdom, their virtue, their holiness and their freedom.

Later on, the might of kings and governments and “wise men” will be thrown against them but they will have a power within them that cannot be overcome. This has happened again and again down to our own day. Within our own lifetime, regimes have tried to obliterate the Christian way and have failed.

The committed Christian is possessed of a vision of life that opponents do not understand. It is a vision based on the search for truth and love and justice as the only weapons of power. Equipped with such transcendent weapons which originate in God they cannot but win out in the end.*
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Psalm 33
Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
he sees all mankind.
Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
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Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants
and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents;
to another, two;
to a third, one–
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents
went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two
made another two.
But the man who received one
went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.
After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents
came forward bringing the additional five.
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him,
‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents
also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him,
‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent
came forward and said,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off
and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply,
‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then
have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back
with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him
and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant
into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”
Eschatological discourse (concluded)

Today is our final reading from Matthew’s gospel and on Monday we will begin the reading of Luke’s gospel. Today also is also our last reading from the fifth and final discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.

There are two great passages left – the parable of the talents and the description of the last judgement – but we will only be taking the first of these. Both deal with the final judgment and, like the parable of the bridesmaids, are warnings on how we are to prepare.

The parable speaks of an employer who, before he set off on a journey, entrusted his servants with large sums of money. He gave them different amounts according to their ability. One got five talents, one two and the third just one. A ‘talent’ was an enormous amount of money in the ancient world, so five talents was a veritable fortune. Originally, the term stood for a unit of weight, about 75 pounds or 30-something kilos and later for a unit of coinage, the value depending on the metal used. Actually, the current meaning of ‘talent’ comes from this parable.

The amount given out indicates the generosity of the employer. But the money was not for their own personal enjoyment. It was meant to be used productively.

The first two both traded actively with the money they had been given and doubled their original capital. The third man, however, buried his money in the ground (the most secure place in a pre-banking society).

When the employer came back, the first two presented their accounts. The employer was very pleased and they were entrusted with even more. To each he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

Then the third man came along with his one talent. He had not traded with it because he was afraid he would lose his money. “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid… Here is your talent, have it back.” Ironically, he was the one who was given the least and from whom the least was expected. But even that little he failed to produce. Perhaps he even expected to be praised for his prudence.

The employer does not deny the charge of being a hard man, but he accuses the man of not having done even the least thing to increase his capital. He could have deposited or lent the money and got some interest. But he had absolutely nothing to show of his own.

The money is taken from him and given to the one who had five talents. Surprising? Unfair? Not really. This man had already shown he was a very good investment. And Jesus sums up: “To everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The word ‘talent’ which in biblical times referred to a huge amount of money now denotes a particular gift or ability with which a person is endowed. “He has a great talent for music; she has a great talent for design.” In that sense, we have all been endowed with talents in varying degrees or, to use a word which Paul prefers, ‘charisms’. In either case they indicate some distinctive ability which is to a large extent innate or God-given.

Everyone of us has been endowed in some way. And, as in the parable, some are greatly endowed and others less so. All that is asked is that we make use of that gift or those gifts to the best of our ability and not for ourselves alone (that is to bury them in the ground) but to build up the kingdom and make a positive contribution to the community to which we belong.

At the end we will be asked, as the men in the parable were, “How did you use the gifts I gave you and how productive were they in furthering the growth of the Kingdom?”

Today then is a day for us to identify what those gifts actually are. It is possible that some people have never given it much thought. They see their Christian life in rather passive terms, just looking after themselves, living in conformity to the commandments of God and the Church, fulfilling their ‘religious duties’, making sure to die “in the state of grace”. This, in effect, is to bury one’s talents.

Today’s gospel makes it very clear that far more is expected of us. We are expected to make an active and positive contribution to the work of the Kingdom and of the Christian community as the Body of Christ. In practice, that means taking an active part in our Church, in our parish and in making a contribution to the betterment of our society. So, it is very important for us to spend some time in reflecting on what are my unique ‘talents’ or gifts or abilities and then to ask how and to what end I am using them?

And the time to do that is today because, as we have been amply warned, we do not know when our ‘employer’ is coming back to check his accounts with us.

The end of today’s passage indicates that if we do not move forward, or are not productive, then we go backwards. We cannot remain static or purely passive in God’s service. To do nothing is not a possible option. The more we give and share with others from the resources we have the more we are personally enriched; on the other hand, to cling to our gifts and keep them just for ourselves is to become smaller in every way.*
St Augustine, Bishop and Doctor

Augustine was born on 13 November 354 in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria), then a Roman city in North Africa. His mother, Monica, was a Berber and a devout Christian and his father, Patricius, a pagan. He was brought up as a Christian but not baptised. He studied rhetoric at the university in Carthage with the intention of becoming a lawyer. However, he gave up this idea and instead went into teaching and study. His study of philosophy, mostly of Plato, and later of Manichaeism over a period of nine years resulted in his effectively abandoning the Christian faith of his mother. Over a period of 15 years he lived with a mistress by whom he had a son, named Adeodatus (meaning, ‘a gift of God’). He left Africa and moved to Rome to teach rhetoric and later to Milan where he got a very prestigious professorship. It was at this point that he began to become disillusioned with Manichaeism and became interested in Neo-Platonism. He also came under the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. In the year 386, he was greatly inspired by reading the life of St Anthony, a desert Father. There is also the famous story of his hearing the voice of an unseen child, while sitting in his garden in Milan. The voice kept chanting, ‘Tolle, lege’ (‘Take and read’). He opened his Bible at random and the text he found happened to be from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (13:13-14). Augustine decided to give up his promising career, give up the idea of marriage, and become a Christian and a celibate priest. After a long interior conflict, which he graphically describes in his Confessions, Augustine was finally converted. Together with his son, Adeodatus, he was baptised by Ambrose at the Easter Vigil of 387 in Milan.

In 388, he returned to Africa, sold off his inheritance and gave it to the poor. He then set up a kind of monastery in his house. In 391 he was ordained a priest and, four years later, became coadjutor-bishop of Hippo. From 396, he was the sole bishop in the diocese. He left his monastery but continued to lead a monastic life in his bishop’s residence. He left a rule of life which was later adopted by what is known today as the Order of St Augustine (OSA). Augustine’s intellectual brilliance, broad education, passionate temperament, and deep mystical insight resulted in a personality of very special, if not unique, quality. His interpretation of Christian revelation revealed in his many writings probably has had more influence on Christian thinking than anyone since St Paul. Among his most famous works are his Confessions, Sermons on the Gospel and Letters of John, a treatise on the Trinity and, at the end of his life, his De Civitate Dei (The City of God). This last work deals with the opposition between Christianity and the ‘world’, occasioned by the invasions of the north European tribes and the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is regarded as the first Christian philosophy of history. Many other works were responses to controversies with Manicheans, Pelagians, or Donatists and led to the development of his thought on the Church, the Sacraments, and Grace. Few, if any, Christian writers have written with such depth on love (caritas) and on the Trinity.

While Augustine’s great influence on Christian thought has been mainly positive, his teaching on Predestination has come in for criticism. Perhaps due to his Manichean background which he never fully shook off and guilt about his own immoral past, he became almost obsessive about sin and evil. He would condemn unbaptised children and others to eternal damnation. He has also been criticised for his teaching on sex and marriage. Even sex within marriage was seen as a necessary evil and never completely without sin. At the same time he did emphasise, against the Manichaeans, the threefold good of marriage – family, sacrament and fidelity. Later Christian tradition also set aside his view that Original Sin is transmitted through sexual intercourse or that intercourse is tolerated only with the intention of having a child. The Second Vatican Council made it clear that, in a marriage, sexual intercourse is an important expression of love and union.

As a bishop, Augustine lived with his clergy a community life and was actively engaged in church administration, the care of the poor, preaching and writing and even acting as judge in civil as well as ecclesiastical cases. As bishop, he was an upholder of order in a time of political strife caused by the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

He died at Hippo on 28 August 430. At the time of his death, the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo. The cult of Augustine began very soon after his death and was widespread. His relics were first taken to Sardinia. Later Liutprand, king of the Lombards, enshrined his body at Pavia. He is usually depicted in episcopal vestments with pastoral staff but later artists also showed him with the emblem of a heart of fire.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

I have been thinking about these eschatological discourses in the context of Our Lord speaking to the spiritual leaders of the people of God just before the Crucifixion.

The gift of talents is the gift of divine revelation from God to His chosen people. The presence of Christ among them has made this gift stupendously large, like the massive amount of money a talent represents. The man with 5 talents is like St Peter. The man with 2 'does likewise', so he is like someone able to follow Peter. But there is something special about the man with 1 talent. He seems to know more about the nature of his master and rightfully fears him, but he is not faithful. I think the man who most resembles this person is Caiaphas, with his special knowledge of God as the High Priest. He held the life of Jesus in his hands - the 1 talent, the priceless gift - and chose to bury Him rather than share what he knew with the people. He rejected his gift, unlike Christ himself, who picked up, carried and died on His cross.

Caiaphas' role of High Priest passed to Christ, represented by Peter. The way the 1st faithful servant is given the unfaithful servant's talent could be interpreted as a prophecy of this.

We should try to follow Peter, sharing our knowledge of God spontaneously and joyfully, ready to be forgiven and to put our failings behind us. But we should beware of the Caiaphas tendency in ourselves - laziness, cowardliness, the wrong kind of fear of God that paralyses, and dishonest rationalization of our failings in our own relationship with God Himself - blaming Him for what we do wrong in the way the wicked, lazy servant does here.

'For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.'

They all have talents, but not all of them have faith. The wicked servant has plenty of money, but no faith. Because of his lack of faith, the wicked servant lost the riches that he never really wanted anyway - the knowledge of God.

It's also interesting to think about why Caiaphas had no faith, in the hope of nurturing our own faith.