This Sunday’s first reading (in the Ordinary Form) from the Book of Proverbs is often used at weddings. My wife and I did not use it at ours. (We opted instead for a message from the great, relatively unknown love story in the Book of Tobit, as did my brother and sister-in-law.) But my parents, whose anniversary is coming up on November 27, did.
On a personal note, my own wedding anniversary is on November 15. We picked this day for our wedding because it was the Saturday that fell closest to November 14: the day which we considered to be the start of our dating relationship. (We were married exactly three years and one day after we started dating.) However, this day was not only associated for me with happiness. In 2012, on the first anniversary of my relationship with my now wife, my paternal grandmother passed away. The first reading at her funeral (which I read) was this passage from Proverbs.
In last Sunday’s readings, the Epistle and Gospel readings were thematically connected, while the First Reading was only tangentially related. This Sunday’s Epistle and Gospel are continuations of last Sunday’s, so the pattern is unsurprisingly continued. However, while the First Reading is not even tangentially connected with the others, a profound connection can still be made.
Deceptive Charm and Fleeting Beauty
Arguably the most resonant line in the passage from Proverbs comes toward the end. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30) In Paul’s epistle, just after he describes the return of Our Lord, Jesus Christ (as we heard last Sunday) he reminds the Thessalonians of what Our Lord said in last Sunday’s Gospel reading. The day of the LORD will come “like a thief in the night.” However, Paul adds a poetic twist. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of night or of darkness.
St. Paul makes the excellent point that the only reason that a thief can sneak around and surprise anyone at night is because it is dark. He reasons that because Christians are followers of Christ, the Light of the World that we are not in darkness like everyone else. Thus, the Day of the Lord will not surprise us. This comes whoever with a stipulation carried over from last week’s Gospel. Most people, when engulfed in the darkness of night, sleep. However, St. Paul tells us that since Christians are in the light, it is only right that should remain awake and alert, watching for the signs of Our Lord’s return.
In this, St. Paul gives an example of how being a Christian means being set apart. This was the case in the time of the Early Church. For example, the Church Father Tertullian, who lived about a century and half after Paul, wrote in his Apologia that Christians “share everything except our wives. We give up our commonality in the only place where others practice commonality.” Now, in the post-Christian, neo-pagan Gnostic society in which we now live, Christians must live in contradiction to the surrounding secular society. Just as it did for the early Christians, in many ways simply adhering to the teachings of Christ, doing what He commands, through His Church, and not doing what He forbids, will set a Christian dramatically apart from his or her contemporaries.
Faithful in Small Things
The Gospel for this Sunday is the Parable of the Talents. Everyone remembers the words from it Well done, good and faithful servant! They seem to forget that there is a second part to the reward given to the faithful servants. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. (In the parallel parable in the Gospel according to St. Luke, the servants are rewarded with control of cities: one for each talent that they returned to their Master.) Many have the mistaken notion that sense they do not murder, cheat on their spouses, steal from the poor or kick puppies that they are “good” or at least “good enough.”
But one should hardly be commended for doing the bare minimum that is required to be a good person. It may be good, but it will never be great. Greatness begins with the small things. In the spiritual life, that means finding and following God’s Will in the small things because it is far more likely that we will face those small tests and challenges than the large, epic ones. The same can be said for sin. Little, venial sins, left unchecked will eventually chip at our love for God, leaving it easier for us to commit the big, mortal sins that, left unconfessed, will cut us off from God for eternity. We fight the little sins to gain strength to combat the deadly ones. And by denying ourselves small, innocent pleasures like a piece of dessert or an extra hour of sleep, we prepare ourselves to deny sin. By gaining self-control in small things, we will gain self-control in great things. If we are faithful in small things, we will be entrusted with great responsibilities.
And what greater responsibility than the care of souls? Through our vocation, God entrusts us with the care of one of the most precious things He ever created: the human soul. Husbands and wives are entrusted with care of each other’s souls. Mothers and fathers are charged with the care of their children’s souls. Priests are charged with the care of their parishoners’ souls and bishops are charged with the care of all the souls in their dioceses. The Pope is charged with the care of every Catholic soul on the planet! (currently about one billion) The goal of every man and woman must be to attain the Beatific Vision in Heaven and make sure that, to the best of his or her ability, he or she is joined by every soul entrusted to his or her care.
St. John Chrysostom said that, “The love between husband and wife is the force that welds society together.” This is one true reason that a “worthy wife,” that is “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” and that “her value is far beyond pearls.” Trying to live as a “son of the light,” as St. Paul calls to do and to be a sign of contradiction to the society around us is hard enough. It is even harder to raise one’s children to live in such a way. It is the duty of the husband and father, as head of the household, to ensure that this is done. If he is not supported, or God forbid opposed his wife in this endeavor, it can be downright impossible. But a husband and wife, united in love for each other through their love, first and foremost, for God, and working together with each other can truly make their home and family into a “domestic church.” This is why it is so important to choose one’s wife carefully and ensure that she not only shares your Catholic Faith but understands it and takes its obligations seriously. Once you are married, pray for your wife. If she is the worthy wife described in Proverbs, never hesitate to thank God for the treasure which He has given you in her.
Let us pray, that through the grace of God, we, along with our entire family, may one day hear the words from Jesus Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come, share your Master’s joy.”