Fr Patrick Hederman OSB
About three weeks ago, I was walking by the terrace in the school when I saw nine students dressed in all their finery waiting for a bus. They were heading for the first round of the UCC Philosophy Society Schools Debate, and, boy, were they bursting with talent. Five won through to the second round and the other four have the opportunity to join them later. As I stood there admiring them, another student, presumably on his way to the rugby pitches, stood near me, also looking up at them. Suddenly he roared at the top of his voice right into their faces: ‘bunch a nerds! Bunch a nerds’ and he ran off.
I thought to myself: ‘Talent is not always recognized or applauded; in fact, some people can be despised for their talents. If you are Jonny Sexton, Katie Taylor, Rory McIlroy or Leona Maguire, you can hold your head high, walk tall, you’re on top of the pile, but as the first reading says: ‘Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.’ At some point you have to retire.
It is very often the case that what makes you popular and talented at school doesn’t necessarily make you successful in later life. Watch out for the wimps and weaklings when they are young, they’re often the ones who pass you out and make it right to the top. Ugly ducklings do often become swans.
Sometimes, if you’re at school and you’re too clever by half, you need to keep your head down and shine a little less brightly. Otherwise you can be called a geek, a swot, a drip, a square: whatever the fashionable put-down word is for those we envy. Bob Hope, as M.C. for the Oscar awards in Hollywood, for the umpteenth time, looked round the assembly of stunning glitterati and said: ‘Dear friends, the one sentiment that unites us all here together today is sheer jealousy!’
When we speak of talent we generally mean a natural aptitude that someone is born with, such as singing, painting, drawing or athletic abilities. People often have to work to refine these talents, but they’re generally innate and genetic rather than acquired. So, the first two people in this morning’s gospel are not really the point at issue. Whether they double what they got, or multiply it exponentially, they are dealing with gifts they received for which they can’t claim too much credit.
The main point of the parable is the person who got one talent and buried it in the ground. Whether you are a gifted out-half, or a mathematical genius, a beautiful singer or a star on the debating team is not really your doing: it is a gift, or a series of gifts, that you received at birth, and you can improve it depending on how hard you work or how things work out for you in your career. The person, on the other hand, who received only one talent is the model here this morning for each one of us. There are 10 billion people on the planet as we speak, and each one of these ten billion is unique, unique as their finger print. You are unique. Never before in the history of the world has there ever been a person like you. You are the first, and potentially the best ‘you’ that ever existed. So, what are you going to do about it: sit down and complain that everybody else got a better deal? This morning’s parable is encouraging us to get up and get organized. Each one of us has a special talent that we alone can bring to fruition. What matters is to stand up and say, with genuine pride and delight: ‘I am me!’ That is when the Lord and Master who created us in the first place will be able
to say: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master!’ God’s joy, God’s glory, is you, as you really are, as you were meant to be, fully alive. So, let’s move ourselves in that direction. Amen.