Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nov. 16, 2014: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
This past weekend, the seniors of the Ascension Catholic School were on annual retreat at a secluded facility north of Baton Rouge. At the retreat, I spoke to the seniors about life after high school, and I used the board game, “The Game of Life” as a prop for the presentation. The aim of the talk was to demonstrate how they could utilize what they are given--whether material resources or our talents-- in real life. Our temptation at times is to live out our lives like the Milton Bradley's version of the Game of Life--focusing our gifts and talents in enjoying and acquiring the good things of life toward the goal of retiring to a mansion. But as Jesus reminds us through the Parable of the Talents, on the day when we are called before him, he will ask us whether we used our talents for our own gain or for the service of others.

In a homily on the Parable of the Talents, Pope Francis stated, "We are in the time of action--the time in which we should bring God's gifts to fruition, not for ourselves but for him, for the Church, for others. [It is] the time to seek to increase goodness in the world; in particular, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that The Lord has given us, but rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others."

At our 'Game of Life' at the retreat, three students were given Ziploc bags which represented their unique gifts and talents--each had different amounts of money, a plastic car, and a number of little plastic pegs that symbolized the children they had. During the game, each student drew a card out of a stack labeled ‘Suffering.’ One student’s card read “Your spouse separates and requests a divorce,” and another student's card read, "You are diagnosed with cancer." Then I asked them to read the scripture verse written on the other side. One of them read, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)”

For a person who doesn't yet know or love God, suffering is a terrible blow to their ideal plan of life. For a Christian, suffering is a gift to be cherished. Then I held up an empty ziploc bag and said, “You all know of one of your former classmates who is not here because of his chronic illness since childhood. To the eyes of the world, he is not particularly talented. He was given much suffering in his life. He will not be able to drive a car, have a career, or have a family, as represented by this empty bag. But what does he have?” Several students answered, “He’s got faith; he's got Jesus.” “Right,” I replied, “When you have Jesus, you have everything.” When he was in the classroom, that sickly young man would make one feel loved and special even in one short meeting. The reason for this extraordinary effect on his classmates was not because of any special qualities or talents he had. Rather, it was to be found in the radiance of his personal holiness, of the power and attraction of a soul totally in love with God. He is so united with God, that through contact with him, his classmates felt that God in their midst.

St. Frances Cabrini, whose feast day we celebrated this week said, "Jesus is always in our midst...and he inflames our hearts with great, divine love. Sometimes he will put our love and faith to the test, but, if we are faithful to our vow and pray to him with trust, never forgetting that the source and cause of our joy is among us, he will very soon inundate us with light and heavenly joy...Let us then be glad when an unexpected cross presents itself, and we are afflicted with pain."

Do you know of a person who used all their gifts and talents joyfully, including suffering for service of others? I remember a beautiful couple, Bob and Judy, who both died of cancer. Bob died first and their son gave a beautiful eulogy. He said: “When my mom found out that she had pancreatic cancer in 2005, and when my dad found out that he had cancer a few years ago, mom and dad did not shake their fists at God in anger. We did not understand why God allowed two of His most faithful servants to suffer and take them away from us. But, mom and dad were even more devoted to God even in their suffering. They did not stop volunteering and giving themselves because of their physical suffering.” In fact, as Bob and Judy were taking chemo treatments at Mary Bird Perkins, they got up from their treatment and assisted other patients who needed help.

That couple received a very special award from Mary Bird Perkins. Bob said in the video presentation at the award ceremony, “I feel that my cancer, like every other gift given by God, is a gift from God. I didn’t know how to use the gift at first. But now when I approach a cancer patient, I know what they are going through because I am also going through it. I don’t think Judy’s or my cancers are curable, but the doctors, nurses, and staff are helping us last as long as we can. This allows us to feel the joy from volunteering and helping the patients feel comfortable.”Have you thought about what gifts God has given you? This may include your talents and even suffering. Have you thought of how you can put them at the service of others? Offer a heartfelt prayer to God, "Lord, you have given me all these gifts for a purpose to serve You and others. Give me the grace to use these gifts generously, not for myself but for others."