Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 16, 2014. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm. Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog, sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and all your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim
Doomsday … it's a term that we consider when our world is in horrible shape because of some catastrophic event. How many of you have ever heard of the show “Doomsday Preppers?” When a commercial for the show came on, I never took it seriously. I just imagined it was some bizarre TV drama - like “Lost’ or “The Walking Dead”– something that’s fictitious, something that’s not real but is sort of presented like it is or could be. For whatever reason, not too long ago, a preview of an upcoming episode of Doomsday Preppers caught my attention and I realized this isn’t some fictitious show, it’s a sort of reality TV/ documentaries that follows people who are “prepping” to extremes that it consumes their entire lives. My immediate thought was -“Oh boy, this is a whole new sort of crazy.” Each episode follows a different group of people who are prepping for all sorts of threats - real or imagined. They anticipate all kinds of disasters, calamities, unprecedented happenings and try to plan accordingly. For example, there have been episodes showing individuals preparing for when the Chinese take over our country. They’ve highlighted people who are preparing for a terrorist attack or when the Russians launch a nuclear attack. There have been episodes where people anticipate the electric grid going caput and for all of us being without electricity for months, even years.
Living in this area of Northern New Jersey - not 15 miles from New York City - where we suffered through the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks; where we survived “Super-storm Sandy” - if anything those terrible events have taught us - just as Hurricane Katrina taught the people of New Orleans and the earthquakes of the past have taught the people of California - certainly, it’s understandable - it’s important - it’s essential - for us to have plans in case of emergencies. It’s not an unreasonable expectation for us as citizens to hold that our government officials conduct drills and contingency plans to prepare for worst case scenarios. It’s responsible for us to have some supplies on hand in case something happens and for families and friends to come up with some plans of what to do in an emergency.
But thats not what this show is about. They introduce viewers to people, often living in rural places in isolation who have turned their homes into bunkers. You see pictures of these places filled with wall-to-wall canned goods. They have built escape tunnels, hideaway places. They spend most of their time drilling, stockpiling items all based around their belief that when the end comes - they will be the ones prepared to deal with it - they will survive because they took care of themselves.
I hate even giving attention to this show on so many levels - seeing these people being exploited for being obviously eccentric (and in some cases, legitimately they seem to have some serious psychological issues). Had this show never existed – nor been a ratings powerhouse for the Discovery Channel – I doubt I would’ve ever known there were people who view life, live life (if you can call this “living”) with such a doomsday perspective. But it’s hard to ignore such a colossally sad existence. How fear is the guiding principle to their lives. They’ve based their entire life preparing for the worst. They’ve invested their time, their abilities, and a heck of a lot of resources towards this. They’ve isolated themselves from the rest of civilization. They miss the irony that the very life they are somewhat desperately trying to protect from exterior forces they are themselves diminishing, squandering - losing.
In some ways these “preppers” reminded me of this poor shlub we just heard about in this Gospel. In this parable Jesus talks about a man entrusting to his servants his possessions. One gets “5 talents” the other 2 talents and the final guy 1. “Talents” in this context represents huge sums of money... 1 talent could represent something between $1,000-$30,000. So let’s just say $10,000 to illustrate what’s happening. The guy with $50,000 through his investment makes it $100,000 - The guy with $20,000 makes it $40,000 - The guy with $10,000 gives him back the initial $10,000 - having done nothing with it.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, Jesus is the Master and we are the servants. And the great “sin” in the parable is that this one servant (who Jesus calls “useless”– ouch!) lets fear inhibit him from even trying to do something with that $10,000. He didn’t look at what the other two servants were doing for inspiration. He doesn’t ask for any advice or help. Just like the doomsday preppers - fear becomes a fixation - which turns inward into selfishness, into self-centeredness - and isolation. The guy with the one talent is so cautious - he does nothing with it - it provides no benefit for he himself who has been entrusted with it, and its value remains unchanged for the king when he returns. The time, the opportunity to do something or make something is wasted.
Working with college students - I can’t help but think that this parable is so incredibly perfect for you all. You are at a time, a place in your life where you have possibly the most freedom and most opportunities than you will ever have. You have more independence than you have ever had. Most of you are blessed not to have many responsibilities apart from “finding yourself” - and dedicating your efforts to pursuing whatever it is that you’re passionate about. What are the “talents” - not monetary things - but rather traits, passions, desires, gifts that you have locked within you - that are looking to burst out. And even more, are you connecting the dots to see who they originated with? Seeing how you can glorify - not yourself- but the Master who has entrusted you with these talents? What will you do with them? It's a choice.
I encourage you to people watch around campus. It grieves me that there are plenty of examples of people who are squandering this opportunity. Skipping classes, cheating, abusing themselves, using one another. It’s a sad reality that some will barely get by, barely survive mid-terms, finals and scrape by and somehow manage to graduate. Others don’t participate in anything but the bare minimum. Why? Laziness. I remember a group of seniors one day walking past Kasser Theatre last year and laughing as they said “I’ve been here 5 years and never been in that place.” That’s pretty sad. Their 4 (or 5 or 6 years) these gifted students have been given will do little to glorify God or anyone else except perhaps themselves. But it’s not the only way these years can be taken for granted.
Self-indulgence, laziness, fear - they don’t just blow opportunities in the here and now. This isn’t just about making the most of your college years and giving you the “Carpe Diem” (the Montclair State University motto) motivational speech. Jesus is going further, deeper. Asking are you allowing those sinful attitudes and behaviors to blow this opportunity - this life you’ve been given? How is your life, your existence, your time on this planet going to be used to glorify God - enrich His kingdom? Every day we are given opportunities to make the most of what we have been given. The minor choices we have for our resources - whether it’s the money we spend, our creativity, our freedom of speech to either glorify God or bury that talent where it will never be seen or experienced. Those day to day decisions start to impact your life decisions as well... I can’t tell you how many times someone talks about picking a major or a career simply because it’s seen as “secure” … it's safe. Perhaps you are living up to someone else's expectations. (I’m studying to be a doctor because my father is one and he really wants me to - but I really wish I could be a teacher...) Or even relationships “I know that he/she isn’t perfect; we fight a lot; but we’ve been together for so long and I don’t want to give up after we’ve spent so much time together.”
God has not created people to live in a fearful or doomsday mentality and go underground. He has created us to shine His light. That is kingdom investment that will make a good return because it is backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. To step out into the unknown, directed by the hand of our Loving Father – to take advantage of the different talents he has entrusted to us, knowing that He sees the potential – the life-giving, life-changing potential each of us possesses since He created us for that purpose. That’s the heart of the message Jesus is sharing in today’s Gospel. The question is, will we need Jesus warning? Because the alternative - to choose to stay in whatever comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves; to at the end of our lives seeing these blown opportunities; to have the Master find us – secure, but useless… that would be the epitome of a "doomsday” we should have been prepared to avoid.