Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. On the day we die or on judgment day, the hope we all have is to hear the words of the Lord as we come before him: ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world’ (Matt 25:34). Or to hear his words of welcome in the Gospel today: ‘Well done good and faithful servant…come and join in your master’s happiness’.
Today I would like to reflect on the power of believing God’s affirmation of us when we do our best in life and take the risk in giving everything in the service of all that is right and good. From the parable that Jesus tells today of three the people and their talents, this is the true image of God that Jesus reveals: a God who affirms, encourages and says to us as a proud parent would: ‘Well done good and faithful servant’. Sadly, many of us do not think of God in this way. We can think of God as being unhappy with us, that our best is not good enough or that we are not good enough. We can think of God as being neutral or unreactive if we do the right thing by the book: after all we are only doing our duty. However, should we fail then God will surely be displeased and angry. This is precisely the false image of God of the third man has that caused him to cut his losses out of fear, to hide his talent and to hand it back to God unused. Another danger that results from having this false image of God is that of falling into resentment. Most of us secretly nurse wounds of being ignored, wounded, cheated or treated unfairly. The deep root of our resentment and unhappiness lies in our inability to admire, our inability to praise others, and our inability to give others and the world a simple gaze of admiration. Admiration is, for us, a lost virtue.
We can test ourselves on this: when was the last time you told a person, that you admire them, that you admire what they are doing, that their gifts enrich your life, and that you are happy that they are part of your life? When was the last time you gave someone a heartfelt compliment? Or, to reverse the question: When was the last time that someone, especially someone who is threatened by your talents, gave you a sincere compliment? We don’t compliment each other easily, or often, and this betrays a secret jealousy. St Thomas Aquinas once submitted that to withhold a compliment from someone who deserves it is a sin because we are withholding from him or her some of the food that he or she needs to live. Not to admire, not to praise, and not to compliment, is not a sign of sophistication but a sign moral immaturity and personal insecurity. It is also one of the deeper reasons why we so often fill with bitter feelings of resentment and unhappiness.
What’s the cure? To listen to the message of the Gospel and the words of the master in the story. They are the words of God to us when we do our best and give our all: ‘well done good and faithful servant…come and join in your master’s happiness’. To know God is happy with us, proud of us and loves us is the most powerful force in the world. Like his words say, we enter into God’s happiness. When we do, bitterness melts away, resentment disappears and instead of waiting for people to admire us, we begin to admire them and give the affirmation to others that they deserve. Allowing the Lord to affirm us is life-giving and life-changing. It clears us of resentment and leaves us free to say ‘well done’ to others as God has said ‘well done’ to us.
I conclude with the words of St Oscar Romero: ‘I don’t want to be an anti, or against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us’. So well done to everyone for all the good you do out there!! May you live in the Master’s happiness today and forever!