Comment & Analysis

Chrome, carpets and using our talents
"Far from being selfish, it seems right that we would make full use of gifts and talents given", writes Fr Vincent Sherlock

Fr Vincent Sherlock

For years I wondered about the Gospel story of the man burying the ‘talent’ given to him. He did so out of fear: “I hid it because I heard you were a hard man,” the Bible records. This line gives us a sense of the thought process at work in the man, who buried his talents to avoid taking a risk. Others had spoken less than favourably of the landowner’s ways and style and that was enough to frighten the ‘talented’ man into inaction. Rather than take a risk he buried deep his talent so that it could be handed back intact when the demand was made.

I remember a man who used to buy cars from my father. I liked and respected him a lot, as did my father and they were lifelong friends. The day he’d get his new car he removed the hubcaps, carpets etc. and stored them in the house. When time came to trade in the car, he put them back. They were in pristine condition and a great advantage to the one buying the car second hand but, even at a young age, I thought there was something sad about him depriving himself of the bit of ‘softness’ the carpet would supply and the bit of chrome the hubcaps would add. Why did he do this? I suppose he felt they’d get soiled or damaged and it was easier to remove them than take that risk. Possibly he felt too that the car might be worth a bit more on trade-in if these items were ‘as new’ – all sound thinking, you could say, but I still think there was a price to be paid and that the car wasn’t all that it could have been with these items removed.

Those little bits of comfort that we might be given or have in life are meant to make life a bit better for us. It’s hard to see how this can happen if we remove or hide them for the duration of our ownership. Far from being selfish, it seems right that we would make full use of gifts and talents given.

Gospel

It’s strange how I link these two men, living thousands of years apart and in different countries but that’s the way the Gospel works sometimes. It takes us to places in memory and people who have thankfully crossed our paths. It’s alive. The man who buried his talent, the one who put away the ‘extras’ on the new car both acted out of some place within, where reckoning is done. Decisions were made and that was that. The man with the talent acted out of hearsay: “I heard you were a hard man”, my father’s customer, out of some sense that this was the right thing to do in his own set of circumstances. His work would have taken him down narrow roads where hubcaps could be damaged or lost and into fields and farmyards that would not be kind to carpets.

The opinion of others is important, of course, but so too our own assessment. We might be better coming to know the Lord personally than to go relying on others to form our opinion. It might have been different for the ‘talented’ man had that been the case. He might have made more use of what he had been given. I sometimes think the Lord is happy to see us using our gifts even – maybe especially – if they get a little damaged in the process!

Hubcaps on wheels, carpets on floors…now!

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A friend told me a story once of two musicians who decided to drop into their ‘local’ for a few tunes and maybe a quick drink. “Now, we’ll not stay long”, they both agreed before entering the pub in the late evening. The tunes and the drink took more time than they’d planned and when they emerged from the pub a new day had dawned. One looked at the other and said: “Isn’t there a mighty stretch in the evenings?” As the evenings close in now and winter draws near, maybe there’s time for a bit of togetherness in the home and the community. It’s good, in fact it’s great, to share time and be together. The local church has its place in that gathering as well.

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Our Lady’s birthday

Mentioning my father and thinking of Our Lady, I’m reminded of a story he used to tell about a man from home who lived in England and shared accommodation with a man with whom he wasn’t especially friendly – not least because the man had no ‘heed’ on the Faith. One night during a storm, the man from home began to pray the Rosary and the other looked at him in disbelief. “What are you praying for? Why are you praying to Mary? Sure she’s only a mother – a mother, just like my own mother.”

The man momentarily stopped praying and said: “Well if she is, there’s a big differ in the two sons!”

On Mary’s birthday, perhaps we take a moment to thank her for that, for “being a mother, just like our own mother”.