Pastoral Message – January 16, 2022
On every sports team, the players are assigned roles based upon their individual talents as well as upon the needs of the team. For example, in football each team has eleven players on the field for each play. Every one of those players has a specific job to perform during that play. If each player executes his job well, the team is likely to succeed. If not, it will likely fail. Some positions tend to garner a lot of attention; others are rarely noticed. Nonetheless, no team would prefer to play with only the five or six “stars” and leave the other players on the sidelines. Each of the eleven players is essential to the smooth operation of each play.
In his letter this week, St. Paul tries to explain this concept to the Corinthians. First, he wants them to know that every Christian is essential to the success of Christianity as a whole. While none of us can transform water into wine or cure the blind or raise people from the dead (only Jesus has that role), we each have a vital and essential role on this team. That’s why the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon each of us one or more very specific gifts which we need to use in the service of our Lord and His Church (our fellow teammates). Whether we are great speakers, compassionate consolers, passionate givers, or those devoted to prayer, we are essential to the success of our Church. It’s not just Pope Francis or Bishop Vann or the priests or the religious that are capable of serving, inspiring, or leading people. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit, every single one of us is able to contribute to the greater good of the team as a whole.
When Jesus formed His team, He surrounded Himself with twelve very average men. From our human perspective, we might even think that they had no obvious skills or talents that would enable them to even contribute to the formation of a church, much less to lead that effort. Yet, Jesus saw things differently. He chose each one carefully to fit a particular need. Even Judas, who ultimately betrayed Him, was chosen specifically for that role. Similarly, when He chose Saul to join the team He was well aware of Saul’s hatred for the team. Nonetheless, He saw strengths and talents that would overshadow Saul’s flawed nature. In each case, He used both talents and flaws to form a strong and successful team.
Despite the fact that the Holy Spirit has given each one of us unique talents, many of us are reluctant to use those talents in the service of the Church or of our Lord. We are content to simply go through the motions of being Christians. We’re unwilling to step up and do the job that our particular talents would enable us to do. We’re happy to stand or sit on the sidelines, not really contributing to the success of the team. We might be called, “Talented, but Lazy.”
On the other hand, some of us recognize our talents but we are much more impressed with the talents of those around us. In fact, we are jealous of those on the team who appear to have more talent or who get more recognition. As a result, we are insulted and decide not to contribute our talents to the team because we feel that our efforts are largely unnoticed. After all, if we are not going to be rewarded for sharing our talents, what’s the point?
Finally, some Catholics are upset by the way that the team is managed or by the behaviors of some of the other team members. In those situations, some actually “quit” the team. We forget that our talents are gifts of the Spirit to be used in the service of the Church. Instead, we decide to take our talents and go home. Sadly, within the United States, about half of those who have been baptized as Catholics have “quit” the team. Of course, through their Baptisms, they are never really off the team. Yet, they abandon the team and worship somewhere else (like a player from USC going to play for UCLA. It’s still football, but…). Others stop worshipping entirely. These talented “former” team members are young and old alike. They come from all walks of life. Our mission is to encourage them to once again share their talents for the good of our team!
I am not trivializing Paul’s important message by using a sports analogy. It’s just a clear and simple way to convey his point. I pray that as you come to the end of this reflection that point will be both obvious and meaningful: The Spirit has given each of us unique talents to use in the service of our Lord and His Church. We shouldn’t be jealous of or worry about those who may be more or differently talented than we are. We shouldn’t worry about whether we are recognized or rewarded for sharing our talents. We shouldn’t quit and go somewhere else or stop worshipping entirely because we are disenchanted or troubled. When we are down, the members of the team use their talents to help us. Similarly, we are asked to use our Spirit-given talents the benefit of the team. It is up to each of us to embrace the gifts of the Spirit and to use them to the fullest extent of our abilities.