Monday, September 20, 2010

Gifts that aren't used wither and fade (Luke 8:16-18)

"To the one who has, more will be given;
to the one who does not have,
even the little he has will be taken away".

I used to play the guitar quite well; I even belonged to the school band when I was in third grade. Of course, I last played the guitar that seriously when I was in 5th grade. After that, for some reason I can no longer remember, I just stopped playing. I also used to paint. My biggest artwork was a painting for the seminary chapel in Manila, 20 feet long. We hung it above the main altar for the Feast of Christ the King in my senior year. My last serious work was an acrylic of John Henry Newman which I gave as an ordination gift to my classmate. That was in Belgium, in 1992. Today, I still have a guitar in my room, but if you ask me to play, the only chords I remember are C, F, G, Am, and D—the easy ones. And if you ask me to draw, I’ll probably draw you stick figures. As I stared at one of my last remaining artworks this past summer, I couldn’t believe I used to do those things.

There is an inexorable law that governs the gifts, talents, and blessings that life bestows upon us; and Jesus speaks of it in today’s gospel reading: “To the one who has, more will be given, to the one who has not, even the little he has will be taken away”.

The more we use the gifts that we’ve been given, the better we become at them; if we fail to use them, they whither and fade. And while we can always pick them up to relearn them, we’ve already lost much time that could’ve been used perfecting them instead. Gifts that are unused—hidden under a bed—as the gospel puts it, eventually wither away. What is true of our gifts, talents, and abilities, is true of our faith, our vocation, as well as our relationship with God. So how do we keep the fire of enthusiasm burning?

Things are always exciting and interesting when they’re new, but soon they lose their newness, routine sets in, we get used to them, and pretty soon, we set them aside. The fire of interest dies, and lukewarmness sets in. So what’s the remedy for it?

Perhaps we can look to one of the favorite words of the prophets—a word that occurs 323 times in the bible: liz-chor in Hebrew, mnemenuo in Greek. The word is “remember”. It was their constant refrain. Remember what? When I was a student and occasionally found the routine of seminary life tedious and tiring, when I’d get lukewarm with my formation, my old spiritual director would remind me: “Remember your first days in seminary. Remember the excitement of your earliest days. Allow the freshness and newness of the memory to rekindle the fire of your vocation”.

The advice worked. It saw me through my many years of seminary formation. And even after I became a priest—on days when things got tough or when the work of ministry (teaching, preaching, celebrating the sacraments) began to feel routine, the advice my spiritual director gave me—to “remember” (this time my day of ordination), always helped rekindle the fire of my enthusiasm for what I was doing.

The semester’s still quite new. But eventually, it too will get old; its novelty will fade. Prayer, our studies, our day to day activities, even our relationships will lose their newness. How do we keep the fire of our enthusiasm burning? Always remember the joy and excitement, the newness and freshness of your early days in seminary. Remember the awesome experiences of these last two months. Remember all the graces God has given you. When you start getting tired: remember. When boredom sets in: remember. When on certain days you just want to give up: remember.

It will keep the fire of your lamp burning brightly—on good days and on not-so good ones.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)