GOD IN OUR MIDST
Doubling Our Love
By Joyce Rupp

"Well done, my good and faithful servant— (Matthew 25:21). The new year beckons us to take inventory, to size up the past while also setting goals for the future. The parable of the talents provides a challenging focus for looking at what we have—or have not—done with the gifts God has given to us.

A —talent— today refers to a gifted quality or a natural ability. The word has its roots in the Greek talanton, meaning a weighted amount of money of significant worth. A —talent— in Jesus— time was a valuable coin. Invested wisely, its worth could greatly increase.

I can imagine Jesus looking around at the people he taught and noticing the differences in age, size, facial features and social conditions. He knew that beneath these externals was an immense treasure of love in each one. He longed for them to recognize and share their goodness. Then he thought of the talent, the precious coin, as a way to teach them.

In this parable three servants are each given talents —according to their ability.— They are expected to use them so the value will be multiplied. Two of the three do so and are praised for being —faithful servants.— Not so the fearful servant who did nothing with what he was given. He worried about displeasing the master, feared getting hurt by doing the wrong thing and doubted he could meet the challenge. In doing so his gift lay unused, and he was reprimanded severely for his inaction.

Guaranteed to Grow

The greatest talent all of us have is our capacity to give and receive love. This gift is in all of us and, like the parable—s coin, it has immense value. Love has the potential of growing in worth when invested in the lives of others. It has the ability of increasing in strength, depth and quality.

Like the fearful servant, we can let the treasure of our love lay idle in our hearts. When we are in situations that challenge us to invest our love, we can easily lean toward holding back. Who wants to forgive someone who has deliberately harmed them, do a kind deed when there will be no gratitude for it or take time to visit a lonely person when the day—s schedule is already too full? At these times we would much rather hoard our love and keep it to ourselves.

One good deed can generate many more if we are willing to share our love. Kyle Sawyer, a 10-year-old boy, decided to raise research money for a spinal disease affecting his younger sister. Kyle—s dedication and enthusiasm led him to find others who would help him make 2,000 paper cranes as a fund-raising project. They were sold as decorations for a hospital lobby and after much hard work fueled by love, his efforts brought in $12,000. Amazing what a young boy can do with one talent!

Many times we invest our love by the simple, genuine ways we extend kindness to another. A local pastor asked some parishioners to describe a loving deed others had done for them that had made a significant difference. The responses he received were not about grandiose gestures. They were about simple, loving actions like coming to visit a widow after a spouse died, helping an older person buy groceries, offering child care when a single parent was seeking work, listening to a confused teenager, hugging someone who was crying.

Learning From Loss

Often it—s the wounded ones who share the fullest amount of love. Parents whose young children have died reach out to other parents with similar loss. Recovering alcoholics spend long hours supporting others struggling with sobriety. Disabled persons volunteer as receptionists for charitable organizations. We are never too old or too young, too wounded or too busy to share of ourselves with others in a significant way.

Whether large or small, our deeds of love can make an immense difference. As we prepare our hearts for the new year, we might ask ourselves these questions: How can I loosen my tight grip on the precious coin of my love? What keeps me from sharing this valuable talent God has given to me? In what ways can my love grow and multiply this year?

Joyce Rupp, a Servite Sister, international speaker and retreat director, describes herself as a —spiritual midwife.— She is the author of numerous books and articles. Her most recent book is Rest Your Dreams on a Little Twig (Sorin Books)..

Next: The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Questions for Reflection:

•When have you seen one good deed generate more good deeds?

• As you look over last year, when did the gift of love most touch your life?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from "God in Our Midst."

FAMILY CORNER
Moving Beyond Fear
By Judith Dunlap

In the parable of the talents the servant buries the treasure entrusted to him because he is afraid of losing it. Giving in to his fear ends up costing him everything. Fear that is rooted in an uncertainty of our own power and worth can be like that. Fear of failure or rejection, or even the fear of being laughed at, can paralyze us. But it needn—t.

Over and over, Jesus told people not to be afraid but to have faith. What a wonderful gift to give our children: faith that can overcome any fear! Unfortunately, we can—t gift wrap it or swallow it like a vitamin. What we can hand on to our children is the story of faith, giving them a glorious sense of power and worth by making sure they understand their part in that story. If I had to tell this story in a hundred words or less, this is what I would say.

When God made the world he had a plan—everything and everyone together in peace and harmony. Right from the beginning we messed up, but God stayed with us. He kept sending prophets, heroines and heroes to call us back. Finally, God sent his own son, Jesus, who lived the plan with every breath he took. Jesus shared his life with everyone he touched. He died and rose again to share that life with us. That makes us God—s sons and daughters. We are God—s prophets, heroines and heroes working together to make the plan of God happen.

That—s who we are. We have God with us and in us. We—ve got important things to do. We have to take the love and life Jesus shares with us to everyone we meet. We are part of God—s plan. Sometimes it can be scary to step out, but when we remember who we are we won—t let fear stop us.

For Family Response:

Read stories about the Bible's heroes/heroines as well as stories of the saints. Talk about how they worked for the plan of God to happen.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Mostly Martha
By Frank Frost

The sharing of food has forever been a way to show our humanity. Mostly Martha is a film treat in which food becomes the central metaphor for our need of love and caring.

Mostly Martha is one of a recent spate of foreign and independent films that bring a breath of fresh air and renewed sense of humanity to the movies, helped along by a huge new market of DVD rentals and sales. (Mostly Martha is already available on DVD.)

Martha (Martina Gedeck) is an extraordinary chef so totally fixated on her work that she spends her psychotherapy sessions describing menus and food preparation. She is able to prepare the perfect meal, but she cannot navigate human relationships. She regularly retreats from the restaurant kitchen into the walk-in food cooler to be alone. She feels so alone that she compares herself to a lobster: Left too long in a tank, it will eat itself from the inside out, she says.

Martha—s carefully calibrated life is thrown totally out of whack when her sister dies and she finds herself responsible for her sister—s preteen daughter, Lina (Maxime Foerste). Martha—s relationship to Lina is defined from the first by food. Seeking to console the girl on the death of her mother, Martha can do no better than, —I—ll make you the best meal you—ve ever had.— But Lina refuses to eat and becomes a difficult charge. She wants to live with the Italian father she has never known.

Martha—s natural talent is in the kitchen, not in mothering, and her relationship with Lina continues to be difficult no matter how hard she tries. —I wish I had a recipe for you that I could follow,— she tells Lina.

Martha—s life is further turned upside down when a new chef is hired to help out. Mario (Sergio Castellitto) is an Italian who sings and dances in the restaurant kitchen, bringing joy to the staff in a way that Martha would never countenance. Mario—s presence is threatening to Martha, although she recognizes the good that he brings.

It is clear that in the course of the movie Martha is destined to make a journey from repressed perfectionist to a cook who savors life. But the plot is not formulaic. There are unexpected twists. Mario, for example, is the first one to break through to Lina—getting her to eat. We begin to suspect he will become Lina—s substitute father, at least for a time.

But it—s the pleasure of watching Martha—s journey unfold that makes this movie so enjoyable. Mostly Martha is a German-made film with English subtitles, but the story is told so carefully and sparingly in images that it is minimally dependent on words.

Mostly Martha makes a joyful, authentic statement about embracing life. It—s a delicious treat.

For Media Watch:

What values did you find in the film Mostly Martha
?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Angela Merici (c. 1474-1540)

Respectable women in 15th- and 16th-century Italy had two choices before them: enter into a marriage, often arranged, or enter a convent. But young Angela Merici created a new option. She would devote her life to God and to service in God—s name, but live her life in the world as a single laywoman working alongside other similarly committed women.

From an early age Angela wanted to share with others the faith she so loved. Her father, in particular, had instilled in her a deep love of the saints. As a young girl she developed a prayer life and fasted regularly. She sensed that God had something special in mind for her.

Angela grew to be a woman of great charm and appeal who naturally drew others to her. In 1535, she and 27 other women in Brescia, Italy, officially became the Company of St. Ursula, popularly known as the Ursulines. Members lived at home and wore no special habit. They took no formal vows, though their Rule required the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience. They filled their lives with prayer, good example, hard work and faithfulness to Jesus.

Angela and her companions were especially drawn to working among poor young girls. But they were also devoted to helping prostitutes, the sick and poor, the homeless and orphaned. People especially came to Angela for her guidance and advice as well as material support.

St. Angela was a quiet pioneer who sought to chart a new path for herself and the Church through the secular institute she founded. Two generations after her death the French Ursulines adopted a cloistered religious life and began educating girls in convent schools.

St. Angela—s feast day is January 27.

Stephen J. Sweeny

Mention the name of St. Angela to Stephen Sweeny, and he—s off. Off and running on one of his favorite topics. President of the College of New Rochelle (CNR) in New York—s Westchester County, Dr. Sweeny is deeply devoted to Angela and the college founded by members of her community.

With Dr. Sweeny at the helm, St. Angela Merici is not just a museum piece in the hearts and minds of students and staff. Every student learns who she was and what she stood for. Twice a year, at orientation sessions for new employees, Dr. Sweeny reserves to himself the honor of —telling the story of Angela. It—s just glorious,— he told Every Day Catholic.

Dr. Sweeny, 59, is in his sixth year as president at CNR, but he has been associated with the college for almost 30 years. By now, he has fully imbibed St. Angela—s values, including her commitment to women and to justice, as well as her courageous and forward-looking spirit. He recalls the statue of Angela in the central plaza in Brescia, which he has visited several times. It shows a —very vibrant, active woman...with one foot forward.—

Rather than bemoan the fact that Angela—s daughters have declined in number over the years, Dr. Sweeny notes, —We all have to be the Ursulines, to be modern-day Angelas. We move into the future.—

The College of New Rochelle, which turns 100 years old next year, is thriving with seven campuses and 7,000 students, 92% of them women. Surely St. Angela would affirm the college—s commitment to lifelong learning and to upholding the Ursuline heritage through the education of the whole person. Like her, the college moves into the future with one foot forward.



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