33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
To one servant he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one.
In the parable of the talents, our Savior teaches that of each an accounting will be required for whatever gifts God has bestowed. From the one who has received much, much is expected; from him who has received more, still more is expected.
But what shall we say of the servant who has received but one talent? We seek to discern what this talent symbolizes, so that we may know how to make it fruitful in our own lives.
Following that great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus, we will consider how the parable of the talents instructs us of the necessity of prayer as the great means of our salvation.
The talents represent God’s gifts, especially grace
This parable, like those verses which precede and follow (namely, of the virgins and of the coming of the separation of the sheep and the goats), declares the judgment, when each will receive the reward of his labors according to what he has done in the body whether good or evil.
In this parable, the master gives to the three servants diverse amounts of talents – to the one, five; to another, two; to a third, one. The talents symbolize the good gifts of God without which we can do nothing.
Father Cornelius a Lapide, that great Jesuit scholar, tells us that these gifts are gifts of grace, natural gifts, and external goods. And, while it is manifestly true that some receive a greater portion of these good things – for example, many who are poor in external goods yet have far more blessings as having received exceptional virtues – none has been completely deprived of all good things. Thus, though some may have five talents, this is none without at least one talent (indeed, and more).
Now, the servants who received five and two talents, respectively, made gain on their gifts, principally by using and increasing them through good works. The gifts of God, and especially the gifts of grace, are increased not only in ourselves, but also in others through our good works and prayer.
But the lazy servant, who makes no increase of the good gifts of God, either buries his talent in sin or holds back in sloth. Such a one is justly punished.
What of the servant who receives only one talent?
But you may say, “This poor servant who received only one talent was at a disadvantage with respect to him who had received five, since it is difficult to make gain with so little.”
To this, we respond that the one talent which the servant received symbolizes not merely any good gift, but specifically the gift of prayer which is deprived no one. Indeed, if this talent had been used well – if the man had prayed – he would have found quick gain and soon multiplied the divine gifts tremendously.
We turn to the Doctor of Morals, St Alphonsus Liguori, from him we shall learn the necessity and value of prayer.
The grace of prayer is available to all
St. Alphonsus Liguori emphasized that prayer is truly possible to all adults. There is none who is unable to pray. Surely, it is true that many are incapable of the prayer of quiet, nay even of any form of mental prayer (to their shame). Yet, each is able to make at least some short but fervent petition to the Most High by which more grace for greater prayer can be gained.
This grace of prayer, a prayer by which we beg the Almighty to take pity on our lowliness, is a grace available to all people – even to the worst of sinners, and at the moment of death. None can claim that they have received no talents from God, for at least this grace is given and always available to all.
If a man should cooperate with this grace, and make some little prayer of petition to God, more grace would be given. As this new grace finds a soul cooperative to its mighty works, yet greater graces still are bestowed. Thus, by cooperating with this ever-ready grace of prayer, the soul wins more and more graces which make her capable of truly great and heroic acts.
By prayer, every other needed grace is gained
Consider the following two quotations St. Alphonsus’ most important work, “The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection”
“If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone … if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray.” (Chapter II)
“We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor.” (Chapter II)
On August 1st, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI took occasion to comment on these words in the Angelus Address on St. Alphonsus’ feast day:
“More than anything else, we need [God’s] liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome him and his grace, which by enlightening us in every situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables us to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.”
“In the wake of St. Augustine, [St. Alphonsus] invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold his help from whoever prays with humility.”
To this realization of the constant availability of the grace of prayer, together with the recognition of the power of prayer to gain further graces, we must add the great axiom of St. Alphonsus:
“He who prays is saved. He who does not pray is damned!”
Hence, salvation is possible to all, since prayer is possible to all. But it is our great task then to pray at all times, but especially when tempted or when striving to complete some task important for our salvation – for without prayer we will fall, but with prayer we will easily overcome every obstacle.