By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, NOV. 14, 2008 (Zenit.org).- This Sunday’s Gospel is the parable of the talents. Unfortunately, in the past the meaning of this parable has been habitually distorted, or at least very much reduced.
Hearing talk of talents we immediately think of natural gifts of intelligence, beauty, strength, artistic abilities. The metaphor is used to speak about actors, singers, comedians, etc. The usage is not completely mistaken, but it is secondary. Jesus did not intend to speak of the obligation of developing one’s natural gifts, but of developing the gifts given by him. On the contrary, sometimes it is necessary to curb this tendency to focus on one’s own talents because this can easily become careerism, a mania of imposing oneself on others.
The talents that Jesus is speaking about are the Word of God and faith: in a word, the kingdom proclaimed by him. In this sense the parable of the talents stands alongside that of the sower. The different outcomes of the talents given correspond to the different fates of the seeds cast on the ground by the sower — some produce 60%, some are buried beneath thorns or eaten by birds.
Today faith and the sacraments are the talents that we Christians have received. The parable thus obliges us to examine our conscience: What use are we making of these talents? Are we either like the servant who made them bear fruit or like the one who buried them? I would compare it to a Christmas present that one has forgotten and left unopened in a corner.
The fruits of natural talents become irrelevant to us when we die or, at best, pass on to those who come after us; the fruits of spiritual talents follow us into eternal life and one day will gain us the approval of the divine Judge: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful in small things I will give you authority over greater things. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Our human and Christian duty is not only to develop our own natural and spiritual talents, but also to help others develop theirs. In the contemporary world there are people whose job it is to be “talent scouts.” They are people who can pick out hidden talents — in painting, singing, acting, sports and so on. They help those with the talents to cultivate them and find them sponsors. They do not do this for free or for the love of art, but to get a percentage of the earnings of the talented people they discovered, once they succeed.
The Gospel invites us all to be talent scouts, not for the love of gain but to help those who are unable to begin developing their talents on their own. Humanity owes some of its geniuses and best artists to the altruism of the friends of these people, who believed in them and encouraged them when no one else did. One exemplary case that comes to mind is Theo Van Gogh, who supported his brother Vincent financially and morally his whole life, when no one believed in him and he was unable to sell any of his paintings. They exchanged more than 600 letters, documents of great humanity and spirituality. Without Theo Van Gogh, we would not have the many paintings of his brother that everyone loves and admires.
The first reading invites us to reflect on a particular talent that is both natural and spiritual: the talent of femininity, the talent of being a woman. This reading contains the famous praise of women that begins with the words: “A perfect woman, who can find her?” This praise, which is so beautiful, has one defect, which does not come from the inspiration but from the epoch in which it was written and the culture that it reflects. If we pay attention, we see that the praise has entirely to do with what the woman does for the man. Its implicit conclusion: Blessed is the man who has such a woman. She makes him nice clothes, brings honor to his house, allows him to hold his head high among his friends. I do not think women today would be enthusiastic about this laud.
Putting this limitation aside, I would like to underscore the relevance of this praise of women. Everywhere there is the demand to make more room for women, to value the feminine genius. We do not believe that “the eternal feminine will save us.” Daily experience shows that women can lift themselves up, but also that they can let themselves down. They also need Christ’s salvation. But it is certain that, once she is redeemed and “liberated” by him, on the human level, from ancient subjections, she can help to save our society from some inveterate evils that threaten it: violence, will to power, spiritual aridity, scorn for life, etc.
After so many ages that took their name from man — from the ages of “homo erectus” and “homo faber,” to the age of “homo sapiens” today, we might hope that there will finally come, for humanity, the age of woman: the age of the heart, of tenderness, of compassion. It was devotion to the Virgin that, in past centuries, inspired respect for women and their idealization in literature and art. The woman of today, too, can look to her as a model, friend and ally in defending the dignity and the talent of being a woman.[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31;1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30.