Life on the Chrism Trail

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 15, 2020
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

The Book of Proverbs speaks about the value of a wife as being of an eternal character that points to the coming of Christ and the character of His relationship with His wife, the Church. This Scripture also points to the character of a sacramental marriage. Such a wife is worth more than many pearls. She provides both for her own family and for the needy and poor. She may be charming and beautiful, but more important is her fear of the Lord, or her sense of awe and reverence of God’s power in her life which is reflected in the way she graciously and selflessly treats those entrusted to her. She does not look for any reward, but recognition and honor should be given her for her loving care.  Such is our supernatural vocation as the Church, the Bride of Christ. The Church is a supernatural and graced communion, not a political collective.

The talents that the Master entrusts to his servants are his possessions for the purpose of generating more gifts and talents in his household to which the servants belong.  The talents belong to the Master — not to the servants. The first two servants in the Gospel reading are able to trust in order to do just what the Master has asked them to do — that is to be generative and generous — so that, when the time of accounting and of reckoning comes they will be able to show the fruit of the Master’s own generativity. The Master is in effect sharing the gift of his own generativity.

The last servant refuses to do what the Master asks him to do; he instead thinks of the entrusted talent of the Master as his own autonomous possession. The last servant who has the least loses that with which he has been entrusted because he has refused to trust the generativity of the Master. The last servant thinks only of himself and fears the risk of generosity, so he buries the talent and stays to himself thereby refusing the stewardship of generativity.

The metaphor of the talents in our Gospel speaks to the Lord’s generosity with us of His many gifts that He has offered to us for our service to Him. In particular, I think that it is appropriate to speak of the gift and purpose of sexuality within marriage and the capacity to be generative that is entrusted to each of us as human beings — each one of us with a particularly God-given gender that is part of our own nature and not the consequence of our own subjective identification.

The sin against generativity produces a false sense of entitlement and egotism that is little more than selfishness based in fear. This sinful disposition shows itself through such actions as contraception, pornography, fornication, infidelity, spousal abandonment, the unavailability and insensitivity within the covenantal and sacramental life of matrimony and most destructively in domestic violence within family life. The sin against generativity can also produce a similar sense of autonomy among celibate priests and religious. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium,“Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity. At the same time, the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort, but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world or a passion for evangelization. As a result, one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor. These are three evils which fuel one another.”

The virtue by which human beings develop and share the entrusted gift of their sexuality is the virtue of chastity. It is through chastity that we can show respect and reverence for the gift of sexuality as still belonging to the Lord but as requiring our grateful and attentive stewardship through our free will. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of the human person in his or her bodily and spiritual being. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the honesty and integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.”  Note that the Catechism uses the term “integration” and uses neither the terms “domination” nor “repression.” 

Chastity develops the gift of sexuality in some people for the virtue of fidelity and love in married life. This is an important point when we consider the destructive results of the foolish counsel given to many young people that they live together before entering into the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Such a relationship objectively habituates dispositions of selfishness that work against essential trust required for marriage and family life.

The last century has seen various attempts throughout the world to “redefine” marriage because of various ideologies that work against the nature of marriage as designed by God — a nature that includes the free consent of a man and a woman to live a life of fidelity, permanence, and openness to the transmission of life and the gift of children. The most recent ideology to attack marriage is the so-called “marriage equality” that has come through the 2015 Obergefell Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America through which the marital goods of fidelity, indissolubility, and openness to the transmission of human life were substituted in law by a characterization of marriage as a “means to finding other freedoms like expression, privacy, and spirituality.”

The State does not and has never possessed the right to redefine marriage because marriage has both a natural and supernatural character designed by God and manifested in our human nature with two sexes: male and female. Pope Pius XI foresaw these struggles in 1930 when he wrote in the encyclical, Casti Conubii, “let it be repeated as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that Matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by Whom nature was redeemed, and hence these laws cannot be subject to any human decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves.”  Chastity offers each human being the freedom of self-possession while the world of the flesh trumpets the slavery of self will.

As chastity in the married life develops freedom for the reciprocal giving of man and woman to each other in their commitment to their marriage vows, so also chastity will develop in other people the freedom to live the significant expression of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God in light of Jesus’ celibacy through their lives offered as either priests or vowed and consecrated religious. The celibacy of the priest is to enable him to be generous to love the Church as Christ loves Her, as a wife who is a treasure with an eternal character as our reading from the Book of Proverbs suggests. Chastity will develop in others the integrity of a free and morally generous single life in which a person recognizes both marriage and religious life as graced vocations not given to all.

The virtue of chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is formation in human freedom. In other words, one is always learning and growing in self-awareness and respect for other people. One can never consider it acquired once and for all.  It requires vigilant effort and conscious practice, and one should never give in to discouragement — or like the selfish servant in the Gospel refuse even to make the effort. It involves trust of God and trust of others. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality of a human being is being formed during adolescence or during periods of grief or transition. Prayer and an active participation in the sacramental life of the Church — including regular confession and reception of Holy Communion — foster dispositions of honesty and integrity needed to live a generatively chaste life.

The reckoning by the Master spoken of in today’s Gospel is not an impersonal and cold accounting, yet it is most definitely a judgment with consequences. The judgment is measured by the generativity itself given by the Master which we understand as God’s Grace; the judgment is measured not by material objects but by the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the judgment is quantified not by productivity of investment but by the selflessness of love; the judgment is measured not by subjective emotion or pleasure but by the gift of joy. The chaste self-possession of the Church as the Bride of Christ receives her spouse’s love not through charm, not through beauty, but through reaching out her hands to the poor and extending her arms to the needy. It is the love of the Cross, it is the love of the Sacrifice of the Mass at which we, unworthy though we are, are invited to share in the banquet of selfless trust.

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