Sunday, November 19, 2017


To one he gave five talents, to another two; to
a third, one – to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.                
 Matthew 25: 15

I spent 12 years of my life in two seminaries. We were sent there to be “trained.” (Sounds like something you do to dogs doesn’t it?) Seminary is not just a matter of passing courses in theology and going to chapel several times a day, it was also about changing for the better in four areas. There was intellectual formation, of course, but there is also spiritual formation, human formation and pastoral formation. Each seminary had completely different tacks on how to accomplish those goals. 

During the first six years, they approached us with the assumption that we had faults, sins and defects that needed to be identified and eradicated. I learned a lot about myself, but I did not grow at my potential under that philosophy. It left me with self-doubt and low self-esteem. During my last six years, thanks to Vatican II, they approached us with the assumption that we had gifts and talents that needed to be identified and encouraged. It was a time of great personal and spiritual growth and creative possibilities. I thrived under this philosophy. My confidence level and ability rose significantly during those years.

Parenting went through a similar transformation. Some of you were no doubt raised in an environment where your every flaw was consistently pointed out to you and focused on, while some of you were raised in an environment where your gifts and talents were identified and celebrated!    For some of you, your glass was always half empty, while for some of you, your glass was always half full!

Now you need to know what God thinks!  In the story of creation, on the very first page of the bible, we are told that when God had finished creating human beings, he stood back and declared that what he had created was “very good.” Over the centuries, even when human kind turned against God, God has never given up on our basic goodness. In the Old Testament, God is sometimes pictured as a punishing God, but even more pointedly he is often pictured as a love-sick husband, always forgiving his beloved wife who is constantly unfaithful to him, even a love-sick teenage boy lusting for his beloved teenage girlfriend.  They say love is blind, that it doesn’t see limitations and failings, but only the good stuff.  That is so true of God! He chooses to overlook our sins and focus on our basic goodness. “Even while we were sinners, he died for us!” The lost sheep is joyfully carried home. The prodigal son is welcomed with robes and rings and receptions. All the workers are paid a full day’s wages. All are entrusted with some of the master’s gifts and talents.

The message of Jesus is simple, but seldom heard clearly. It is often hidden under layers and layers of “ifs” and “yes, buts.” The reason so many young people avoid organized religion is that it tends to focus on their sins and failings, rather than their talents, potential and possibilities. The fact of the matter is, Jesus focused on the basic goodness of the rejects of organized religion and society, while the religious authorities of his day focused on their sins. While Jesus encouraged and forgave, they condemned and withheld forgiveness.

Jesus came with “good news” and the “good news” is this: we are loved without condition, no matter what we have done or failed to do. From there, we are called to grow ourselves, to invest our talents and to become all that we can be!  Understanding that we have a basic goodness that we can built on is essential to personal and spiritual growth. People who believe they are worthless, talentless and bad, see no point in trying. As Marriane Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most scares us.”

God allows for mistakes, and because of that, he wants us to take some risks and be pro-active with the gifts we have, as the parable tells us. The man who buried his talents, did not really know his master. He was scared of life. He was a coward when it came to taking risks. He is called a “lazy lout” in most translations. A “lout” is a stupid person, an oaf, a dunce, a fool, an airhead, a dumb-ass. A “lazy lout” blows every chance he or she gets to “make something” of himself or herself even when he or she is given every chance to do so.

You, my friends, are gifted and talented or you would not have come as far as you have! God has brought you this far in life so that you can keep “investing” those talents and see what you can do with them. Don’t blow the stake God has in you! Talents are meant to be developed and used, not hoarded away where they wither and die!   Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.” 

I had the good fortune to start working for Bellarmine University after I left here as your pastor in 1997. I never thought about it, much less planned on it, even though Doctor McGowen, Bellarmine’s President at the time, said to me on the front steps of this very Cathedral after Mass one Sunday, “You will be working at Bellarmine one day!” I just laughed because it sounded out of my talent range. As God would have it, not to mention Doctor McGowen, I just retired last year after 17 years of being their weekend chaplain. 

What is even stranger, when I was there Father Michael was a student at Bellarmine in my early days of being their chaplain on the weekend. He tells me that I once said to him, “You will be taking my job someday!” He wasn’t even a seminarian at the time! Guess what? He now has, not one, but two of my jobs! He is pastor of this Cathedral and he is the Vocation Director, one of my other jobs! Doctor McGowen is not the only one to recognize talents when he sees it! I know talent when I see it too!

 Father Michael and I are both formed in Bellarmine’s mission statement. Bellamine’s mission is to “provide an educational environment of academic excellence and respect for the intrinsic value and dignity of each person.  Bellarmine seeks to be a place where talented, diverse persons of all faith and many ages, nations and cultures develop the intellectual, moral and professional competencies for lifelong learning, leadership, service to others, careers, and responsible, values-based, caring lives.”

In other words, Bellarmine begins by accepting one’s basic goodness and dignity as a talented person and then gives them an environment to work from there in creating a happy and effective life.  Bellarmine helps you take what God gave you and encourages you to see how far you can take it. But, do you know what? This has also been the mission statement of this parish dating back to 1983 when I came here. That’s what I, and subsequent pastors, have tried to do –  accept your basic goodness and dignity as a talented person and give you the encouragement and environment to become the best spiritual person you can be and challenge you to use your talents for the betterment of yourself, your families and the community - at home and afar.

One of the things I was adamant about when I retired was that I was not going to spend the rest of my life taking care of myself, pampering myself and looking out for number one! I still have talents and I want to continue to invest them. As a single person, I have a lot of personal freedom. I am an entrepreneur by nature. (One of you once told me that if I had gone into business, I would have been a millionaire! Now you tell me!) I like to design needed programs and execute them. I can do retreats, parish missions and priest convocations. I have done way over 100 in the nine countries. What I have decided to do is try to live simply on my social security and my priest pension and use my talents to do those things to make money for the Caribbean missions and pull other talented people in to join me. I have some involvement in four countries down there already, but mainly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines off the coast of Venezuela. I want to help them strengthen the institutions that strengthen their communities rather than help one family at a time. I will make my 8th trip December 11-19. I will attend the blessing of the new St. James Chapel in the newly renovated Diocesan Pastoral Center that my organization built and renovated -  and hand out the toys we have collected for two of the orphanages. I will begin trip #8 by visiting my third island in the chain, so as to prepare for our kid’s computer camp that we had to postpone last June because our 15 computers did not arrive in time and our volunteer “kid’s computer teacher” from here in Louisville had to have foot surgery. God expects us to “invest” our talents and I hope to keep investing mine in new and creative ways till I can no longer physically do it! I hope to give others interesting opportunities to invest their talents as well to build up the church in a struggling part of the world, ether by supporting my program, by letting me go in both our names, or maybe even going down themselves someday if the niche is right for them. 

On this first annual Day of the Poor, this is my challenge to you! In your own way, in your own state of life, be that “good and faithful servant" who doubled God’s investment in him, not the idiot who buried it because he was stupid, lazy and scared. That type of investment pays huge dividends! I know, personally, that to be the case! 

No comments:

Post a Comment