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The Gifts Received and Shared

XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A — November 12, 2017

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Roman Rite
XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – November 12, 2017
Prv 31, 10-13.19-20.30-31; Ps 128; 1 Thes 5, 1-6; Mt 25, 14-30
Ambrosian Rite
1st Sunday of Advent
1)  The first talent is God’s Love.
The «talents»1 of which Jesus speaks in today Gospel are not only the qualities or the abilities that God has given to each one of us but His Love and gifts of grace, strength and intelligence, with which He fills us so that we assume the responsibility of children and brethren.
In this regard, Pope Francis asks: «Have you thought about how you can put your talents to the service of others?» then he says: «Do not bury your talents! Bet on great ideals, ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals of service that will make your talents fruitful. Life is given to us not to jealously preserve it for ourselves, but to give it to others. »
The Pope reminds us that, in this parable of the talents2, Jesus wants to teach his disciples (and us) to make good use of the gifts that God gives to every man and woman. He calls them to life, gives them talents and a mission to be accomplished using and sharing such gifts. This is also a parable with which Christ invites us not to be afraid of life and God. He is not a master excessively and unfairly demanding, but a Father who with the gift of Charity allows us to live in freedom and love.
In addition to His love these are the gifts- talents that Jesus offers us: his Word deposited in the Gospel, Baptism which renews us in the Holy Spirit, prayer – the ‘Our Father’ – that we address to God as children united in the Son, his forgiveness which he commanded to be given to everyone and the sacrament of his sacrificed Body and Blood. In a word: the Kingdom of God, which is Christ himself who is present and alive among us.
The talents that Jesus has entrusted to us, his friends and brothers, multiply when we donate them to others. It is a treasure given to be invested and shared with everyone. If it is foolish to think that the gifts of Christ are due to us, it is also foolish to renounce using them because it would be defeating the purpose of our existence. Commenting on this passage of the Gospel, St. Gregory the Great notes that the Lord does not deprive anyone of the gift of his charity and love. He writes: «It is therefore necessary, my brethren that you’d put every effort in the safekeeping of charity and in every action that you must perform» (Homilies on the Gospels 9.6). And, after stating that true charity consists in loving both friends and enemies alike, he adds «If one lacks this virtue, he loses every good, he is deprived of the talents received and is thrown out into the darkness»
2)  A parable framed by two others parables.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the parable of the talents is preceded by the one of the wise virgins and followed by the parable of the final judgment on love (I was hungry, thirsty, I was naked … and you gave me something to eat, something to drink, to get dressed …).We can consider it as the central pillar that illuminates the other two. First, it sheds light on the meaning of wisdom, represented by the reserve of oil. True wisdom comes from the novelty of a free and creative relationship that the human person has with the Lord. Second, the parable of the talents teaches that the grace given by God and accepted and recognized by us, becomes a gift for the brothers, who identify with the person of Christ. Also, if we consider the Gospel of Luke, this parable is closely linked with the story of Zacchaeus freely encountered by Jesus. This parable reveals a curious fact: in front of God, man is not only forever in debt but is called freely to a meeting with him, which is pure grace. Being wise and skillful in front of God is then the only way to liberation, which will become a free gift in the meeting with the brother.
Unfortunately, sometimes we are in front of God like the third servant, the one who did not grow his talent, and we remain closed in our preconceptions about God and our modest ideas about Him. We care too much about our peace of mind and of our routine. Novelty frightens us. Christ calls us to be his confident disciples that are not afraid of him and stand by without servile fear. The disciple of Jesus must move in a relationship of love, from which alone can spring courage, generosity, freedom and even the courage to take the required risks.
Looking to the One who «has made all things new» we are-unfortunately more frightened than enlightened. This is why the parable of the talents stimulates the freedom and generosity that flows from the recognition of the sheer gratuitousness of an encounter. This meeting is wanted by man, as it was for Zacchaeus, but is made from the goodness and love of God who went to his house and brought salvation. It was the coming of Christ in the house of a repentant sinner.
3)  Coming = Advent.
All Latin Christians equate Advent to a period of 4 weeks for the Roman rite and 6 weeks for the Ambrosian rite, but many ignore the origin of the word «advent» and some «curiosity» that this term carries with it and that is worth reminding.
Let’s start with the word «Advent», which is derived from Latin and literally means «arrival», «coming». It was used by the rulers of ancient times, especially in the East, to indicate the ritual with which they wanted to solemnly celebrate their arrival (in fact, their «coming») in a city. They demanded to be welcomed as benefactors and gods. For the Christian liturgy the choice to use this term for the «coming» of Jesus Christ, the true giver of salvation and redemption among men in the great cities of this world, was therefore consistent with the mentality of ancient times.
Thus the real «advent» would coincide with the celebration of Christmas, which is the day when we celebrate the coming of someone. The word Advent later was amplified to indicate the period of preparation for the feast of December 25th. Therefore the question of how long should we prepare for Christmas came up. The most ancient solution that the Ambrosian rite has retained to this day, was to «build» the period of preparation for Christmas in imitation of the period of preparation for Easter, namely Lent. Because Lent is marked over six Sundays, so Advent was «built» on six Sundays3.
These are Sundays intended to keep alive the vigilance of expectation, so that Christ doesn’t find us indolent and lazy, and the devil doesn’t rob us of this treasure. These are Sundays when we are reminded that to have faith means to make fruitful the talent that has been placed in our hands.
4)  The one who loves, lives in vigilant expectation.
 To receive and treasure the presence of Christ in us we must have the vigilance of the heart, that the Christian is called to exercise in everyday life, but especially in the season of Advent when we prepare with joy to the mystery of Christmas.
The environment that surround us offers the usual commercial messages, even if perhaps to a lesser degree now, due to the economic crisis. The Christian is called to live Advent as a time of waiting without being distracted by the lights of shops and supermarkets, but looking with the eyes of the heart to Christ, the true Light.
In fact, if we persevere “vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise «(Preface for the First Sunday of Advent), our eyes will be able to recognize in Him the true light of the world that comes to enlighten our darkness.
The Virgin Mary teaches us an active and joyful vigilance on the path to the encounter with God. Following the example of our Heavenly Mother, the consecrated Virgins are daily witnesses of how to live this expectation by showing that the greatest talents are the Love of God, his Kingdom and His righteousness.
The virgin is the person who waits, even with her body, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ gives himself to the church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person anticipates in his flesh the new world of the resurrection. He or she is the witness in the Church of the awareness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment. (cf. Saint John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, nr. 16)
The consecrated Virgins in the world are called to testify that, being persistent and «vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise» (Preface First Sunday of Advent), allows our eyes to be able to recognize in Christ the true light of world that comes to enlighten our darkness.
The task of the consecrated Virgins is to build a life on the rock of a Lord loved, listened and waited (cf. Mt 7.24 to 25).
1 The talent was not a coin, but a unit of account. It was not possible to mint a coin of almost 27 kilos! It indicated, however, a very large value, as huge as it is the treasure left to us by Jesus. In fact a talent was 60 mines and 6,000 drachmas. The drachma was treated as equivalent to the dinar (which was the currency of the time) and an unskilled worker earned about a dinar a day. The Mishnah says that the minimum for a family to live was 200 dinar per year. With a talent, a family could live 30 years.
2 In the parable of the talents recorded by the Evangelist St. Matthew (25, 14-30), Jesus tells of three servants to whom, when going on a long journey, the master entrusts his money. Two of them are doing well, because they earn twice their talents. The third, however, hides the money received in a hole. Back home, the master calls the servants to give an account of what he had entrusted to them, and while he appreciated what the first two did, he is disappointed with the third one. The servant that kept hidden the talent without enhancing it. He miscalculated: he acted as if his master would no longer come back and as if there was not a day when he would be asked to be accountable for how he had «managed» the gift.
3 This year, November 16 is exactly the sixth Sunday before Christmas, precisely the beginning of the Ambrosian Advent. In more recent times the Roman Rite shortened this period to «only» four Sundays and that explains the difference in the calendar and the words «Roman Advent» on November 30th.
Patristic Reading Saint John Chrysostom
Homely on Mt 78
And if in Luke the parable of the talents is otherwise put, this is to be said, that the one is really different from the other. For in that, from the one capital different degrees of increase were made, for from one pound one brought five, another ten; wherefore neither did they obtain the same recompense; but here, it is the contrary, and the crown is accordingly equal. For he that received two gave two, and he that had received the five again in like manner; but there since from the same beginning one made the greater, one the less, increase; as might be expected, in the rewards also, they do not enjoy the same.
But see Him everywhere, not requiring it again immediately. For in the case of the vineyard, He let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country; and here He committed to them the talents, and took His journey, that thou might learn His long-suffering. And to me He seems to say these things, to intimate the resurrection. But here it is no more a vineyard and husbandmen, but all servants. For not to rulers only, nor to Jews, but to all, doth He address His discourse. And they who bring a return unto Him confess frankly, both what is their own, and what their Master’s. And the one says, Lord, “Thou gave me five talents;” and the other says, “two,” indicating that from Him they received the source of their gain, and they are very thankful, and reckon all to Him.
What then says the Master? “Well done, thou good” (for this is goodness to look to one’s neighbor) “and faithful servant; thou was faithful over few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, “meaning by this expression all blessedness.
But not so that other one, but how? “I knew that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou sowed not, and gathering where thou sown not: and I was afraid, and hid thy talent: lo, there thou hast that is thine.” What then the Master? “Thou ought to have put my money to the exchangers,”14 that is, “that ought to have spoken, to have admonished, to have advised.” But are they disobedient? Yet this is nought to thee.
What could be more gentle than this? For men indeed do not so, but him that hath put out the money at usury, even him do they make also responsible to require it again.
783 But He not so; but, Thou ought, He says, to have put it out, and to have committed the requiring of it again to me. And I should have required it with increase; by increase upon the hearing, meaning the showing forth of the works. Thou ought to have done that which is easier, and to have left to me what is more difficult. Forasmuch then as he did not this, “Take,” say He, “the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents? For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”16 What then is this? He that has a gift of word and teaching to profit thereby, and uses it not, will lose the gift also; but he that gives diligence, will gain to himself the gift in more abundance; even as the other loses what he had received. But not to this is the penalty limited for him that is slothful, but even intolerable is the punishment, and with the punishment the sentence, which is full of a heavy accusation. For “cast ye,” says He, “the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” See thou how not only the spoiler, and the covetous, nor only the doer of evil things, but also he that doeth not good things, is punished with extreme punishment.
Let us hearken then to these words. As we have opportunity, let us help on our salvation, let us get oil for our lamps, let us labor to add to our talent. For if we be backward, and spend our time in sloth here, no one will pity us any more hereafter, though we should wail ten thousand times. He also that had on the filthy garments condemned himself, and profited nothing. He also that had the one talent restored that which was committed to his charge, and yet was condemned. The virgins again entreated, and came unto Him and knocked, and all in vain, and without effect.
Knowing then these things, let us contribute alike wealth, and diligence, and protection, and all things for our neighbor’s advantage. For the talents here are each person’s ability, whether in the way of protection, or in money, or in teaching, or in whatsoever thing of the kind. Let no man say, I have but one talent, and can do nothing; for thou canal even by one approve thyself. For thou art not poorer than that widow; thou art not more uninstructed than Peter and John, who were both “unlearned and ignorant men;” but nevertheless, since they showed forth a zeal, and did all things for the common good, they attained to Heaven. For nothing is so pleasing to God, as to live for the common advantage.
For this end God gave us speech, and hands, and feet, and strength of body, and mind, and understanding, that we might use all these things, both for our own salvation, and for our neighbor’s advantage. For not for hymns only and thanksgivings is our speech serviceable to us, but it is profitable also for instruction and admonition. And if indeed we used it to this end, we should be imitating our Master; but if for the opposite ends, the devil. Since Peter also, when he confessed the Christ, was blessed, as having spoken the words of the Father; but when he refused the cross, and dissuaded it, he was severely reproved, as savoring the things of the devil. But if where the saying was of ignorance, so heavy is the blame, when we of our own will commit many sins, what favor shall we have?
Such things then let us speak, that of themselves they may be evidently the words of Christ. For not only if I should say, “Arise, and walk;”20 neither if I should say, “Tabitha, arise,”21 then only do I speak Christ’s words, but much more if being reviled I bless, if being despitefully used I pray for him that doeth despite to me. Lately indeed I said, that our tongue is a hand laying hold on the feet of God; but now much more do I say, that our tongue is a tongue imitating the tongue of Christ, if it show forth the strictness that becomes us, if we speak those things which He wills. But what are the things which He wills us to speak? Words full of gentleness and meekness, even as also He Himself used to speak, saying to them that were insulting Him, “I have not a devil;”22 and again, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.”23 If thou also speak in this way; if thou speak for thy neighbor’s amendment, thou wilt obtain a tongue like that tongue. And these things God Himself says; “For he that brings out the precious from the vile, shall be as my mouth;” such are His words.
When therefore thy tongue is as Christ’s tongue, and thy mouth is become the mouth of the Father, and thou art a temple of the Holy Ghost, then what kind of honor could be equal to this? For not even if thy mouth were made of gold, no nor even of precious stones, would it shine like as now, when lit up with the ornament of meekness. For what is more lovely than a mouth that knows not how to insult, but is used to bless and give good words?

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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