Well done good and faithful servant.
“...You have shown you can be faithful in small things. I will trust you with greater. Come and join in your master’s happiness.”
I hope you are enjoying the rugby!
I have just one experience of full international rugby – when I was very briefly the match doctor for the Guyanese national team. For any of you who aren’t familiar with rugby, it’s a fairly rough game – if you are American, think of American football, but without the helmets and padding. In most matches several players are injured, sometimes quite seriously. So the organisers had asked me to be on-hand to help out those who got hurt – that is (perhaps I should make this clear) in my capacity as a doctor, rather than as a priest. It’s a rough game, but not that rough. And that was how I came to be standing on the touch-line a little nervously as the starting whistle went and thirty of the more solid citizens of Guyana and Martinique charged towards each other to spend eighty minutes disputing the possession of a small oval leather ball.
As it happened the injuries were few but complicated. The inside centre for Martinique scarcely blinked when his nose was broken at the bottom of a ruck, but burst into inconsolable tears when it was tentatively suggested that this might call into question his availability for selection in the next game.
I think St Paul would have enjoyed rugby. Perhaps more than any other, it is the great team game – a game in which everyone, no matter what shape or size has a place and in which each one’s contribution is vital to the common success. In the “pack” the mighty mastodons – anything up to 22 stones of human buffalo – struggle for the ball and win the “hard yards”. Each one carries the ball on in turn, supported by his fellows and gains perhaps only a couple of yards – sometimes even only a foot or two before he is tackled, put down and has to lay the ball back to someone else. Each in turn lays his talents, skills and body courageously and painfully on the “gain-line”. And each in turn makes a contribution which – seen individually – is insignificant, but which adds up to valuable progress for the team. Finally, the team achieves a position from which it can attack. At this vital moment, the scrum-half – usually the smallest and physically weakest player, but the “brains” of the entire team – makes the critical decision to spin the ball wide to the lighter faster backs so they can try to score. If they can breach the line of defenders, they pass the ball out to the wing – the fastest runner among them - and give him a chance to run for the try-line. The whole process has been orchestrated to this single moment of opportunity. Carrying the ball – and the hopes - of the entire team and its supporters, he must outpace or out-smart the remaining defenders between himself and the line. If he succeeds, then not he, but the entire team has scored a try. If he fails, then the entire effort – the struggle, the pain, the injuries sustained – have all been for nothing.
As a game, rugby is popular all over the world. I think that is because the elements of the game speak to something very profound in all of us – the basic common human desire to use all our skills, all our talents, our bodies and minds, our very All in the achievement of something we can genuinely believe is worthwhile – a real reason for living – the reason for which God put us on this earth in the first place.
As Christians we call that achievement – that desire – that hope - the Kingdom of God. Like scoring a well-worked try, it calls for the participation of every member of the church in the task which best suits her or his talents, skills and abilities. For many – in fact for most – the work will be the hard, unglamorous, unsung, painful, sometimes dangerous and largely invisible work of gaining the “hard yards” – living faithful Christian lives in the world of work, marriage, family and society. Fronting up to the challenges of life, propping up those institutions that enable our Society to work, locking the pack into a single community of purpose, scrabbling for hope at the breakdown.
A small minority of people will have the opportunity, privilege and heavy responsibility of carrying the ball – and the needs of the Church – in open play – in public. They must constantly remember that they are only in that position because of the hard and unseen work of countless people who have worked desperately hard, giving their labour and sometimes their lives – to give them that opportunity. And whatever is achieved is the achievement not of the individual but of the entire church and resounds to the glory, not of individual people, but to our common Father in Heaven.
Some people will feel they have little to contribute – they do not feel they are very talented. It is primarily to them that today’s parable is addressed. The tragedy against which Jesus warns us - the real tragedy of life - is not in being limited to one talent, but in the failure to use that one talent.
As the Pope John Paul II so often reminded us, there have been more martyrs for the Church in this century than in any other. Few of them will ever be formally canonised. The many have suffered, died and their names are forgotten to all except to God and to those – often including their killers – whose lives they touched with their faithful witness.
To each of us belongs an opportunity, a grace and a gift. One day we shall be called to account for its use.
Let us profess our Faith in God who has given us both our gifts and our opportunity to use them to do something ultimately worthwhile.
Paul O'Reilly SJ