Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, November 19, 2023

In the announcements at the beginning of Mass, you would have heard information about a “Marketplace of Opportunity” which will be taking place in the parish after the 10.30am Mass on December 3rd. This is a fancy way of saying that we will be looking for volunteers to undertake various ministries in the parish. The announcement began by asking: “Are you feeling called to offer your talents to the service of the church?”. The word “talents” echoes the theme of our gospel today. In Jesus’ time, a “talent” was a sum of silver or gold, amounting to the equivalent of about $28,000 US today. You can see how valuable even one talent would be, let along two or five talents. So don’t feel sorry for the guy in the gospel parable who is given only one talent. It doesn’t seem, on the surface to be very much money to invest, compared with the other servants. But in fact, it is still a substantial sum to do business with. The servant with the one talent isn’t being careful or thrifty. He is being selfish and lazy.

 In time, the talent went from being just a unit of currency to becoming the term applied to a person’s gifts.  So, we talk about a talent for music, or for administration, or for art, and so on. At the Marketplace of Opportunity, we are looking to you, our parishioners, to consider using your talents or gifts to help our parish community realize its mission in the Church to evangelize the world.  Now, when it comes to a discussion of putting our gifts or talents at the service of the parish, there are a few common misconceptions that many Catholics fall into. One is to believe that they don’t have any spiritual gifts, another is to say that, even if they have one or two such gifts, they are not important in the general scheme of things, compared to others’ much more valuable talents, and the third is to say that it doesn’t matter if they don’t exercise their gifts anyway, because the Church’s mission will get done anyway, without them. Each of these excuses are exposed as false by our gospel parable today.

To begin with, it is simply not true to say that we don’t have any talents or gifts. St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says very clearly “to each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good of all” (1 Corinthians 12: 7). If we have been baptized and confirmed, we have received the Spirit, and the Spirit comes to us bearing his gifts which he distributes. Again, St Paul, having given a list of some of the spiritual gifts to be found in the Church, tells us that “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit , who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (ibid. v.11) . There are, within the church community, says Paul, varieties of gifts, varieties of services, and varieties of activities (ibid. v. 4). No one gift or talent is more important or valuable than another in a parish, and no one person, not even the priest, has a monopoly of all the gifts. Soon after I arrived in the parish here, I gave a sermon, detailing all the necessary services to be carried on in a parish that I did not have the gifts to perform. I am not good at administration, or finances, or organization, or do-it-yourself work. I can just about change a light bulb, but that is about it!

True enough, in earlier days, we did not speak about the gifts of the laity as we do now. The laity’s mission extended only to pray, pay and obey. But now various programs are available to help us discern our gifts and how to use them in parish ministry. We have had, in the past, various workshops to help parishioners discern their giftings, and we will have more such, in the time ahead. As a result, not only do I know what I am NOT good at, I also know what I AM good at: teaching, exhortation and mercy-giving. That still leaves a lot of things I need help within the running of a parish, and where am I going to look for such help? Deacon Louis has a number of special gifts, we know, which he willingly puts at the service of our parish. But even he and I together, cannot fulfil every single task and requirement needed for the Church’s mission. So we need you, the parish laity, to step up and contribute your unique gifts to the overall mission of the parish.

Some of you are already doing that, in many cases for a number of years, and I thank you most sincerely for that, but we are all getting a bit older and a bit more tired and we look towards the younger members of the parish to do your bit. There are all kinds of gaps in our parish ministries: altar servers, Eucharistic ministers, choir members, ushers, Knights of Columbus, ladies’ group, family formation, youth, parish outreach, bereavement counselling, and so on. We want to be a community fully flourishing in its mission to bring the good news of God’s love and care to others. So, if you don’t believe that you don’t have anything to contribute by way of gifts or talents, and, rather like the guy with the one talent in our gospel today, decide to keep your talent to yourself, then those gaps will continue, and we will fail to be the best possible version of a parish community that we can be. And God’s mission for us fails to be fully realized. 

The truth that we have come to learn over the years, as Church, is that God has a purpose in life for everyone, and wants us to know what it is, and how to achieve it. That is why he gave us spiritual gifts, often called charisms in Paul’s letters, in the first place. It makes no sense for the Spirit to give us gifts, if we never use them. It is like receiving a birthday or Christmas present from someone and putting it on the shelf without ever opening it and letting it grow cobwebs. But, unlike the harsh master in the gospel who takes the man’s one talent away and gives it to someone else, with God it is different. “The gifts and the calling of God” says St Paul in his letter to the Romans, “are irrevocable” Romans 11:29). Irrevocable: that means God is not going to take back either our gifts or our calling, our purpose in life. This means that, if we never put our gifts to use, if we never seek out God’s purpose for us in this life, in other words, the particular way in which we are called to serve in the church community, then that particular job never gets done. Because we were the one planned by God to do that particular job or ministry, so if we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done  and the parish flaps along on one wing, rather than soar to the heights on two. We limp along, rather than running the race towards heavenly glory.

So my challenge to you this day, brothers and sisters, is to examine what the response in your heart is to what I have been saying. Do you still believe that you don’t have any gifts, no talents? Or that any you do have aren’t important enough to warrant putting at the service of your parish community? And do you still believe that, even if you choose to hide your particular light under a bushel, that no-one will miss you, and that we will simply roll along happily without you and your gifts? If I have caused you to think again, then let me challenge you even further, to come along to our Marketplace of Opportunity on Sunday 3rd December, after the 10.30 am Mass, and offer your services for parish ministry.