Fearing Greatness by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money.
After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bring the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more. His master said to him, 'Well done my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities, Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back. His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'
“Fear is the chief activator of our faults.” This adage, sometimes attributed to St. Theresa and often used in 12-step programs, touches on a profound truth. Specifically, how can we be ruled by fear. It is not for nothing that a common phrase throughout the scriptures is “Do not be afraid.” Whether from Our Lord Himself or His angelic messengers, the exhortation touches on a basic reaction of our fallen human nature: to fear God. Indeed, this was the first reaction of fallen man: “I was afraid … so I hid.” (Gn 3:10) Those first words of man neatly summarize his behavior though out the ages.
We can discern the presence of fear at the deepest root of every sin. Even in the sin of Adam we can perhaps detect the fear of missing out on becoming like a god if he did not eat of the tree. So also today, we commit sins of even the greatest gravity not typically out of malice, but out of fear. We fear rejection, suffering or pain – so we make a mess of it instead. Our anger and envy, for example, usually proceed from a fear of being less than others, of being passed over.
But the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30) shows how fear operates in another regard. The parable tells of three servants entrusted with talents – one with five, the second with two and the third with only one. The first two servants invest their wealth and make a profit on what the master had given them. The third however, buried his talent and therefore has no profit to show the master upon his return. It is thus a parable primarily about the failure to invest the gifts of God. But the servant’s motive for hiding his talents is instructive: “Out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.” (Mt 25:25)
In this case, fear prompts the servant to commit not a horrendous sin but a sin of omission – and for that reason the parable is even more instructive. The third servant did not steal from his master. He did not spend the talent on some immoral activity. He simply failed to invest what the master had given him … out of fear. This should prompt us to consider how fear keeps us from growing in the Faith.
Our Lord calls each of us to greater devotion, intimacy and holiness. Why do we not respond? Why do we bury the gifts of grace that He entrusts us? What do we fear? Perhaps we fear failure – in which case we should meditate on the fact that if we die trying for heaven, we win. The saints had plenty of failures on their way to perfection. Indeed, perfection was not theirs until death. Perhaps we fear losing the kind of life we want – in which case we should meditate on God’s goodness to us, that He desires something for us far exceeding what we can imagine. Perhaps we fear the effort needed, that it would disrupt an otherwise comfortable life. Ironically this often drives us to expend more energy avoiding the Lord and burying our gifts than simple outright generosity would demand.
In the end, it is a failure of love, a failure to think first of God that leads to fear. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18) – because when we enter into that relationship of love with the Father we realize that we have nothing to fear in our feeble, repeated attempts to serve Him. He is patient with His children and delights in their efforts. We should not bury our gifts out of fear but invest them in full confidence that our heavenly Father delights in even the smallest effort to bear fruit.
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