Understanding The Parable of the Talents–What Does It Mean For Us?

This past Sunday, The Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)  was read as the Gospel reading at Mass. As you may remember, this is the story in which “The Master” entrusts his servants with his property. One servant is given five talents. The second is given two. The third is given one.

The servants who received five and two talents respectively, doubled what they were given and pleased their master. The servant who received one talent buried it and only returned what he was given, which caused the master to punish the servant.

Over the years, I’ve heard many comments from people who are confused by this parable. Not only do they feel that the servants are being treated unfairly at the outset, but they are often disturbed by what a jerk “the Master,” who “reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he scattered no seed” appears to be.

Here are my thoughts, I hope it helps:

1. The Master who “reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he scattered no seed,” is not a jerk.  He is God. God harvests salvation from the fields of the Devil (i.e., the fallen world). God brings good out of difficult situations. He reclaims what sin has worked to destroy.

2. The talents are a metaphor for grace (they are NOT merely abilities or money). The different sums are a sign of the receptivity to grace of each of the servants. The message here indicates: No matter how much we are open to receiving God’s grace, he gives us as much as we are willing and able to receive.

3. When the servants cooperated with grace, they saw the work of grace expand exponentially.

4. The third servant did not do anything with the grace he had been given because, literally, he “was afraid.” Fear separates us from grace.  Think about it.  Grace is the presence of God.  God is love and “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). 

The third servant did not cooperate with grace. Instead of clinging to God, he clung to his fear. Ultimately, the third servant separated himself from God by choosing to focus on his limitations over God’s Providence.

5. Grace will not be thwarted. Even when we resist or reject God, he finds ways around our resistance and redistributes it to those who will receive it and cooperate with it.  God’s will will be done!

Superficially, this seems like a harsh parable but ultimately, it is about the superabundance of grace, the generosity of God, and the fact that nothing–not even our fears of our own limitations–can stop grace from building the Kingdom.

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

A Crisis of Authority: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin.  Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the Pope to lift the prohibition.  Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban.  Certainly some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept.  Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican:  in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.

The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times.  The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInery’s What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology”;  2) the Pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions and that his function was to go with the vote—the “witnesses”; and 3) for the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.

Crisis of Authority

Since the Council and Humanae Vitae, there has been a mass exodus of priests, religious, and laity from the Church, continuing today with 76% of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly.  The Council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen—so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” (p. 13). He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the Pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving…the dissenting theologians have… whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.” (pp. 145-6)

In short, the dissenting theologians have set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.

Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion amongst Catholic laity on many matters of faith.  In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86% of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic¼.” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76%), priests should be allowed to marry (64%), and women should be allowed to be priests (59%).  The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.

Did Anyone Read The Documents of Vatican II?

It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read!  What the bishops finally voted on and the Pope promulgated did not, in fact, set up a democratic Church!  Even if they could, church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display.  Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not!

The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority:  “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff….For the Roman Pontiff,…has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen Gentium, no. 22).

 

Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks ex cathedra (infallibly) is also clearly refuted by Lumen Gentium (25): the submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”

It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching.  In the end, the laity suffers the most.

The Vatican’s Response to the Dissent

The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system.  Almost every Papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized, and marginalized.  And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.

Conclusion

“Since Catholicism is something we receive rather than invent, authority is absolutely essential to it.”  (p. 147)  It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the Pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic.  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  In my opinion, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium function as the immune system of the Body of Christ—and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.

In the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system.  But confusion has reigned long enough! Don’t be illiterate!  Men, read McInery’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II, or better, Humanae Vitae and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old-Christ-instituted authority!

 

Catholicism and Psychology–Perfect Together?

Welcome Readers!

In preparing to write the inaugural post for this blog, a re-imagined version of an old,  popular candy commercial popped into my mind…

SCENE: A shrink and a Catholic priest are walking around a grocery store. They absentmindedly bump into each other and their purchases fall on the floor, getting all mixed together.

SHRINK: You’ve got your chocolate in my mayo!

PASTOR: You’ve got your mayo in my chocolate!

TOGETHER: Hey! THAT’S…. DISGUSTING!!!

There are any number of people on both sides of the fence who think that psychology and religious faith (and perhaps, especially, Catholicism) go together like…well, two things that don’t go so great together. My hope is that this blog will help my fellow Catholics, and people-of-faith in general,  both appreciate the helpful role psychology can play in their lives and also become faithful, discerning consumers of psychological news and insights.

Although this blog will, at times, address topics related to general spirituality, my primary focus will be more on the intersection of religious faith and mental/emotional/relational health and specifically, how Catholicism might best interact with current trends in psychology.

The Catholic Church has taken a lot of hits over the last decade–many self-inflicted.  Religion, in general, is seen as being on-the-ropes in our current culture.  It is often said that we live in a post-Christian age.  Although the number of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” is growing, and rates of religious non-affiliation among 18-29 yo’s has doubled from 8-16% (according to Pew) in the last decade or so, 80% of the US population still claims affiliation with one denomination or another (with 70-75% of those are various Christian denominations and the remainder divided between Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faithful) and 40% of the US adults claim weekly Church attendance.  Despite the fact that religion’s influence has decreased, in this day of hyper-partisanship and cultural-compartmentalizing, it seems to me that getting 40% of Americans to do anything on a given day every week is something just shy of a miracle.  Religion is still a powerful force in our culture.

Likewise, it would be hard for anyone to deny that psychological insights and doctrines impact everyone for good or ill.  Psychological terms like “self-esteem,” “drive,” “sibling rivalry,” “actualization,” “identity,” and so on are part of almost everyone’s vocabulary. And, of course, Catholics are not strangers to psychological counseling.

Regarding this last point about mental health treatment, Catholics face a special challenge.  As fellow Patheos blogger, Mark Shea, is fond of noting,  the sociologist, Peter Berger once remarked that if India was the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the least, then the US is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes. We might as well say the same thing about mental health in the US; specifically, the US is a nation of Indian patients treated by Swedish shrinks.

Is that as it should be? Do the non-religious “Swedes” doing the treatment planning know something the religious “Indian” clients don’t? Can we in the mental health biz be comfortable with maintaining this attitude in this age of multiculturalism? What would it mean for religion and psychology to get beyond tolerating each other and, instead, creatively engage each other? And specifically, since this is a Catholic blog, is there such a thing as a Catholic approach to psychology and, if so, what would it look like and why?  Can psychology help us live our faith more effectively?  If so, how?

These are some of the questions I hope to address. Sometimes I’ll be able to answer questions, and more often my posts will just raise more question for you. But I think that’s just fine. After all, religious faith and psychology are both quests to discover ultimate truths about (with apologies to Douglas Adams) the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. And we can’t get anywhere without asking big questions. Chances are we won’t always agree, but hopefully, we can learn from each other.

Thanks for beginning this new adventure with me!