Blocking and Tackling
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money.
After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bring the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more. His master said to him, 'Well done my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities, Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back. His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'
Vince Lombardi once observed that "football is only two things blocking and tackling." Which sounds incredibly boring. No great running plays? No exciting passes and amazing catches? How exciting could that possibly be? And who would ever watch such a game?
Of course, the game's greatest coach does not intend to rob football of its excitement. Rather, his hyperbole simply means that the exciting things about football are impossible without the two most basic and least glamorous elements. This is a truth that every great athlete, musician or military commander understands: Without the basics, the big things will never be accomplished. And this human wisdom is simply a reflection of what Our Lord teaches about the Christian life.
"Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities" (Mt 25:21). Thus does the master praise each servant who traded well with the talents entrusted to him (cf. Mt 25:14-30). Notice that he singles out for praise not their profit but their faithfulness in little things. He had, in fact, entrusted to them an enormous amount, and they had netted him a nice sum more. But he does not even mention the money. He focuses on fidelity in small matters.
Just so does the Lord treat us. He has entrusted to each of us certain talents. No, He does not give equally. But He does have one equal expectation: that each of us be faithful in small matters.
First, then, comes fidelity. This means remaining attentive to what the Lord has entrusted to us diligent about using the talents He has given, however many or few. The opposite of fidelity is negligence and a straying mind. We become unfaithful servants typically because we grow bored with the same things day in, day out. Our minds wander away from what seems to be dull and of no account like blocking and tackling. We want excitement. Infidelity sets in when we suffer what C.S. Lewis calls "the horror of the same old thing." Fidelity keeps us focused on where we are on our state of life, on our vocation, on our duties, on the work before us at the moment.
Second, the fidelity Our Lord commends is not now and then, nor only in big things. It is, rather, especially focused in "small matters," in precisely those events or things we are most tempted to dismiss or overlook. Now, we do not want to become obsessive or anxious about trivial things. But progress in the Christian life like winning a football game or performing a great concert is accomplished by constancy in the small things.
The parable's third servant received a smaller amount, which he promptly buried. Ironically, he needed only to be faithful to the smaller amount entrusted to him. Perhaps he thought it too small to be of consequence. Perhaps infidelity set in as his mind strayed to the larger amounts entrusted to the other servants. Whatever the case, the great sadness is that the master's mindset actually suited his situation perfectly. He did not need to have a large amount or do great things he only needed to be faithful in the small.
What, then, are these small matters? They are the simple, regular practices of a Christian life so seemingly minor that we overlook their importance in shaping our souls: Pray the Morning Offering upon rising, make a good confession frequently, be courteous and charitable to others, take care of our possessions. Or, as Blessed John Henry Newman summarized it in another context: If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to Gods glory; say the rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
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