18 November, Wednesday — The Weightiness of Talents

Nov 18 – Memorial for the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Basilica of St. Peter is located within the Vatican City. It occupies a unique position as one of the holiest sites and as the greatest of all churches of Christendom. It is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and, according to tradition, was the first Bishop of Antioch and later the first Bishop of Rome, and therefore the first in the line of the papal succession.

Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter’s tomb is below the altar of the basilica, which is why many popes, starting with the first ones, have been buried there. There has been a church on this site since the fourth century. Construction on the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on Apr 18, 1506, and was completed in 1626.

While St. Peter’s is the most famous of Rome’s many churches, it is not the first in rank, an honour held by the Pope’s cathedral church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Contrary to popular misconception, St. Peter’s is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. It is properly termed a basilica.

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls is one of four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome. This basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I, over what was believed to be the burial place of St. Paul where it was said that after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial over his grave.

In 386, Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept. The work, including the mosaics, was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I. Under Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the basilica was again extensively modified. As it lay outside the Aurelian walls, this basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the ninth century. Consequently, Pope John VIII fortified it, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry forming the town of Joannispolis, which existed until 1348 when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

On 15 Jul 1823, the negligence of a workman repairing the roof resulted in a fire which almost totally destroyed the basilica. Alone of all the churches in Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. The whole world contributed to its reconstruction. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, and the Emperor of Russia sent the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal façade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian government, which declared the church a national monument.

The basilica was reopened in 1840 but was reconsecrated only 15 years later at the presence of Pope Pius IX, with 50 cardinals. On 31 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the basilica to come under the control of an archpriest. On the same day, he named Archbishop Andrew Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.

– Wikipedia

Apo 4:1-11
Lk 19:11-28

“I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Growing up listening to the parables in the Gospels, the parable of the talents has always struck me deeply. If you had asked me a few years, even a few months back, what is my greatest fear; without any hesitation, I would have said it was the fear of not realizing and using the talents that God gave me. I feared that I would be like the servant with the one talent who chose to bury it, and hence received the wrath of his master.  

In Luke’s Gospel, it is said of gold coins or pounds; in Matthew’s Gospel, the word talent was used.  “What’s the difference?”, you may ask. Well, I have come to realize that I have missed important details of this parable. It turns out I needed someone like Fr. Robert Schoenstene of Mundelein Seminary, to clearly explain the parable to me.  

Previously, I understood this parable as gifts or abilities that God has given to us for us to use and to serve Him; it is to be spent and invested wisely to reap greater rewards for ourselves and others.  What I didn’t realize until recently, that in ancient times and biblical terms, a talent is a measure of something really heavy or weighty, like gold or silver. To the ancient Hebrews, nothing is more weighty or precious than the mercy of God. This is different from our modern definition of a talent.

In the light of biblical terms, this parable makes so much more sense and strikes much less fear in me.  If you are interested in reading more about the biblical meaning of talents and its relation to mercy, then search for Bishop Robert Barron and the parable of the talents. I won’t go into details here as I probably won’t do it justice. What I want to share is how this changed my view of the parable and its meaning to me.  

Instead of striking fear in my heart, I am touched by the mercy and love of our God. The weightiness of the Lord’s mercy is not to be kept by us alone. It is meant to be shared, to be given away. Hence, the more mercy one has, the more one ‘spends’ or gives away, the more rewards or more grace one receives. However, if we keep the mercy we have to ourselves instead of giving it away, even the little that we have will be taken away from us. This is the inverse of investment in modern capitalistic terms, but makes perfect sense when contemplating through the teachings of Christ.  

Brothers and sisters, the love and mercy of God, what our Heavenly Father has given us, is not meant for us alone. We are meant to share, to give away the love and mercy of God. Because it is precisely in giving that we receive.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we learn to share and give away your Divine mercy and love so that in learning to give, we receive so much more.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for your Divine love and mercy.

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