I think I was in first grade when I first saw the film “The Wizard of Oz.”  It’s a film that just about everyone has seen, because it’s such a whimsical and timeless story.  From the magical land of Oz to its expressive characters, to the memorable music, The Wizard of Oz envelops you in wonder and imagination, and returns with waves of nostalgia every time you watch it.

From the first time I saw it, I was struck by the beauty of that unforgettable song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  In those days, I had a cassette tape with the movie soundtrack on it, and I would play that song on our stereo over and over, until I knew all the words by heart.

Then, one day at school, the announcement came:  TALENT SHOW, this month!  And though I had never been to a talent show, I heard that it was an opportunity for people to showcase what they could do.  Since I liked to sing, and I liked that song, I thought that this is the perfect opportunity to strut my stuff.  I practiced the song while it played on the stereo, and I remember my mom and the babysitter encouraging me up to the day before the show.

Then, it finally hit me—at the talent show, I was not going to be singing in the comfort and safety of my living room; I was going to be on a stage, with EVERYONE looking at me, singing the song all by myself!  I couldn’t bear the thought of standing up there, in a roomful of classmates, parents and teachers and then forgetting the words and having to slink off in embarrassment.  It was too much, and I ended up backing out of the talent show at the last minute.  Imagine, me, singing in front of people!

Now, before I lead anyone on, no, there will not be a singing portion to this homily, and I seriously doubt that I can remember half the words to the song after almost 30 years.

Little did I know, all those years ago, that I had a certain affinity for music.  One might even call it a talent.  I continued singing in the children’s church choir, and I soon joined the junior high band, high school band, and college band.  I tried my hand at jazz, though I wasn’t very good at it.  I loved playing in high school orchestra, and throughout college and afterwards, I continued to play my guitar and sing at church retreats.  Finally, after some hesitation, I joined the seminary choir and became a Mass cantor.

At each step of the way, I encountered challenges, like auditioning for region band, or performing a solo at a concert.  In seminary choir, I was pushed to the limits of my vocal register, and I had to learn the proper techniques of singing, and how to read square notes.  Yet, with each challenge I overcame, there was a reward. Hard work and dedication eventually leads to a payoff.  I consider the fruit of my musical training to be the moment I chanted the gospel on Easter Sunday in Saint Peter’s Square, proclaiming the good news that Christ is Risen to thousands of faithful gathered at the heart of the Church—a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Now, I can hardly imagine what a difference it would have made if I had never overcome the fear I experienced at that talent show in first grade, or if I had never learned the value of preparation before region band tryouts.  Or if I had never learned to perform in front of people in a concert hall.  The talent with which I had been blessed would have remained buried deep down, and the fruits would never have come to bear.  What a waste that would be.

This is the lesson of the Parable of the Talents in our gospel today.  True, the word “talent” in this gospel is not referring to a special capability, the way we use the word today.  In those days, a talent was a measure of weight, as in “five talents of silver.”

I think it’s important to note here that the servants were given different amounts of money, each according to his ability.  The master knew his servants well, and he did not give them more than he knew they could handle.  One can imagine that these servants had been entrusted with tasks time and time again throughout their careers.  As some proved more trustworthy and fruitful in small matters, they demonstrated their trustworthiness in larger matters.  Finally, when entrusted with a large sum of money, two of them proved themselves fruitful servants, and they share in their master’s joy.

Then we come to the third servant, to whom a small amount of money was entrusted.  Was he envious of the other two?  We don’t know.  But what we do know is that he was full of fear, like the Cowardly Lion or first-grade-Father-Joe.  He even says, “out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.”[1]  His fear keeps him from investing the money.  Fear keeps him from being fruitful.  Because of his unfruitfulness, this third servant is cast out from the master’s house.

But is fear really so sinful?  Now, St. Thomas Aquinas says that fear is sometimes a sin, and sometimes it’s not.  The difference is whether we fear something that is reasonable to fear.  He says we’ve got to use our faculty of reason!  If I only had a brain.

Yes, there are plenty of things we should be afraid of, like tornadoes.  This is perfectly reasonable because tornadoes are dangerous.  But then there are things we shouldn’t be afraid of, like flying monkeys.  Our reason tells us that flying monkeys do not exist, so we should not fear them.

But this servant is afraid of his master, and not in the right way.  There is a type of fear we call servile fear, and then there is a different type, called filial fear.

  • Servile fear is the type of fear that the third servant displays. He is afraid of punishment, and so his actions are motivated by a desire to avoid punishment.  He believes that if he avoids risk and plays it safe, he won’t suffer the wrath of the master.  Turns out, the opposite is true.  Servile fear causes us to close in on ourselves.  It kills generosity and love.  It makes our souls small and cold.
  • Filial fear, on the other hand, is the respect and love of a child for his parents. A child shouldn’t live under the constant threat of punishment from his parents, but rather, from the fear of doing something unworthy of his parents’ love.  Filial fear gives us great freedom, secure in the knowledge of our parents’ love for us.  It leads us to greater generosity and love.  It allows us to bear fruit, and so it makes the love between child and parent grow even stronger.

This distinction is key if we are to understand Christ’s words, “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.”[2]  Taken out of context, it sounds overly harsh and contrary to Christ’s preference for the poor.  But understood in the economy of grace and charity, it makes perfect sense.  The one who loves much will be rich in receiving love, but the one who loves little will be like the Tin Man, unable to feel and unable to act.

This third servant is paralyzed by servile fear, while the first two are fruitful out of filial fear.  They know of their master’s love for them, and so they go out into the world and put to good use the talents that he gave them.

The truth is, we have all been entrusted with talents.  Some have many, some have few.  It’s always a danger to start comparing ourselves to others, because that almost always leads us into the sin of envy.  Envy causes us to feel sorry for ourselves, and prevents us from developing and using our talents.  Chances are, no matter what gifts and abilities we are blessed with, someone out there can do it better than us.  In the seminary, there were plenty of men who could sing better than me.  I could have resented them and become angry at God for not giving me their level of talent.  But I found that the key to avoiding envy is to rest in gratitude for the gifts that we do have, and to work diligently to bear fruit according to our ability.

Not only have we been entrusted with talents, we have also been given a superabundance of grace.  We have the Gospel, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the example of the Saints, and the Sacred Tradition of the Church.  We have the capacity for reason, judgment, and prayer so that we can discern God’s will.  We have been called “children of the light”[3] and given the freedom of the sons of God.

Brothers and sisters, if we have been entrusted with such a cornucopia of graces, are we not expected to invest them and to bear fruit?  As we await the second coming of the Lord, are we to passively sit around, or are we to use well the time we have in service to him?  Do we operate out of a servile fear of God, or do we seek out new disciples, confident that we are his beloved children?

Our faith is given to us not just for our own salvation, but to go out and make more disciples.  If we keep our faith private and hidden, it is no different than burying the talent in the ground.  But if we live our Catholic faith boldly, and invest richly in others, we will reap a bountiful harvest.  In the economy of grace, faith is like love—the more you share it, the more you have.

Those who bear fruit will be rewarded in the end, when they hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Now enter your master’s joy.”  With these words, the faithful disciple will enter in, and live in the Master’s house for all eternity.  It’s the hope and the desire of every Christian, because after all, there’s no place like home.

[1] Matthew 25:25

[2] Matthew 25:29

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:5