The Catholic Letter

Catholic Help With Marriages And Families

The Parable of The Talents

In explaining the parable of the talents, many people seem to seize on the word "talent". They explain that it means we're supposed to use our talents (skills, abilities, etc.) for God's work, which means the good of the world.

Yes, the good of the world, in a strict theological understanding of the word, is a work which God wills. And, we are supposed to use our skills in the service of this work. But when it comes to understanding the lesson of the parable of the talents, we need to dig deeper.

In the parable, the master leaves various amounts of his own wealth in the hands of his servants, and then goes away for "a long time." When he returns, he expects his servants to have increased his wealth through their handling of that which he left with them. This is not merely a matter of having done the master's work, but of investment and return.

Understanding Investment

Clearly, the master in this story is Christ Himself. Leaving us at the Ascension, He has gone away for a long time, but will one day return. When He does, we will all make an accounting to him of how we've invested (or not) the wealth He entrusted to us.

But what is that wealth? Is it merely a question of our skills and material (physical and mental) talents? Is using our resources for the betterment of men and the glory of God what the parable is all about?

Not by a far sight. Rather, that wealth is His very life--the life of grace which He won for us on the cross. This grace, God's own divine life within us, is what He expects to be invested at a return, so that it is increased when He returns.

How, then, are we to invest? What is the return He is looking for, and how do we know whether we are making good on the Master's expectations?

The Priesthood

For different people, the answer to this is different, but there are two particular vocations in which the answer is clear: First, for those called to Holy Orders, the investment is the fullfilment of the Orders itself, the transmission of grace through ministry of the sacraments. While each priest and bishop is called to his own particular service according to the circumstances of his life, each also performs the primary fulfillment of his stewardship of the Lord's wealth by making the sacraments frequently and easily available to the faithful.

The priesthood is a calling to a special Order. Even though we should encourage as many vocations to the priesthood as we can, it is nonetheless true that the far more common vocation in which we must work out an investment of the Master's talents is that of marriage and child rearing.

In Marriage and Family

Within marriage, we clearly gain return on our life of grace by raising our children in this life. For most, this is the investment to which our Lord's parable refers. By training our children in the faith, we are placing our money with the bankers so that when He returns we can say "see, you have given me five, and I have made five more."

In training our children in the faith, however, it isn't enough to bring them up to attend Mass every Sunday and attend the parish school. We must train them to be consiencious Catholics, mindful of both their own path of grace and, when the time comes, that of their children in turn. In other words, for our stewardship to represent a true investment, it must bear an ongoing return, a true return at interest. We must bring up our children in a way that will perpetuate the Master's return on interest through the generations.

This lesson applies in a special way in our own age, when the birth control mentality is so prevalent. For a married couple to purposely prevent themselves from having children, even after they've had one or two (or three or . . . ) is to deny our Lord the opportunity to make a return on the grace He has given to us. Furthermore, a child who is never born can also never have children; therefore, to purposely thwart the conception of a child or remove the possibility of conceiving a child within a marriage is to create a loss situation for the Master which itself will perpetuate through the generations.

And what of those who take this approach to family life? Our Lord has already answered that:

Take the talent away from this one and give it to the one with ten. He who has will receive more, and he who has not will loose what little he has.