Once upon a time there was a good and wise king, much loved by his people and truly concerned for their well-being. One day he called together his three daughters and said, “I wish to go off and spend much time in prayer and learn more about God; in my absence, the three of you will be in charge of the kingdom.” Then he said, “I have a gift for you; it’s my prayer that this gift will help you learn the meaning of ruling a kingdom.” Then he placed a single grain of rice in each daughter’s hand, and departed. The oldest daughter didn’t understand the meaning of the gift, but was afraid to lose it since it was from her father; she tied a long golden thread around the grain and locked it in a beautiful crystal box, and hid the box in her room for safekeeping. The second daughter looked at her grain of rice and thought, “This grain is no different from any other,” and she threw it away. The youngest daughter took her grain to her room, carefully placed it on a table, and wondered about its meaning; she pondered the mystery for weeks and months, and finally—after about a year—understood the meaning of the gift.
Many years passed, and then the king unexpectedly returned; he greeted his three daughters, and asked what they had done with their gifts. The oldest daughter rushed to her room and brought back the crystal box and said, “Father, I carefully tied a golden thread around the grain of rice and have preserved it securely in my room.” The king accepted the gift and said, “Thank you, my daughter.” The second daughter, not wanting to admit she threw the gift away, rushed to the kitchen, found a grain of rice, and ran back, saying, “Father, here is a grain of rice.” The king looked at the young woman knowingly, but simply said, “Thank you, my daughter.” Then the youngest daughter said, “Father, I do not have the grain of rice you gave me.” “What did you do with it?” asked the king, and she answered, “I thought about it for nearly a year before I realized it was a seed, so I planted it in the ground. It grew, and from it I harvested other seeds; I then planted those seeds, and I harvested the crop—and have continued to do so. Father, come look at the results.” She led the king to a window, from which he could see a vast field of rice producing enough food to feed their small kingdom. The king took off his golden crown and placed it upon her head, saying, “You have learned the meaning of ruling a kingdom,” and the young woman went on to have a long and glorious reign (White, Stories for Telling, p. 71). God wants our lives to have a similar happy ending. He entrusts many gifts to us, and we will be truly blessed if we make good use of them.
God offers everyone the gift of faith, but people have different responses to it. Some people, like the first daughter in the story, seem to value it highly but don’t really use it; they go through the motions of enshrining and preserving it, but don’t allow it to take root and make a difference in their lives. Even worse are those who, like the second daughter, don’t value it at all, and simply throw it away, lose it, or reject it. Only those who, like the youngest daughter, take the gift of faith, plant it, and allow it grow and multiply, are truly pleasing to God. This, of course, is the point of Our Lord’s parable (Mt 25:14-30). The servants who used their talents were rewarded for their efforts; the one who played it safe—whether out of laziness or fear—was severely punished. A living and active faith leads to great blessings; a faith that isn’t used eventually withers and dies. This is the context for the reading from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31), which describes the ideal wife not as one who passively waits for her husband to tell her what to do, but who actively develops and uses her talents, and in particular reaches out to those in need. The Lord is pleased with those who take the initiative when it comes to doing good. St. Paul echoes this theme in his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians (5:1-6), urging his Christian converts not to be spiritually asleep, but to stay alert and sober, keeping busy with their duties toward God and neighbor. This is how we will be ready for the day of Christ’s return.
Most of us have the heard the expression “Use it or lose it,” and we know it applies to many areas of life. If you’re in great physical shape, but then stop exercising and using your energy and strength, you won’t remain in great shape for long. If you’ve become quite good at playing a musical instrument, but then give up practicing, your skills will erode. If you have a nimble mind, but stop using it as you grow older, you’re more likely to develop memory problems and mental confusion. This same basic idea applies to religious faith; if we allow it to become safe, comfortable, and stale, we can’t expect to rely upon it in a time of personal crisis, and—even more importantly—we can’t expect it to save us when we finally encounter God face to face. To prevent such a missed opportunity or even a potential tragedy, we must constantly deepen, renew, and develop our commitment to Christian discipleship; we must strive each day to become a bit more prepared for death and judgment.
This means, first of all, taking a careful inventory of our talents, abilities, and opportunities. What gifts has the Lord given us? How are we using them? Are we taking certain situations or possibilities for granted? Examining our consciences in this way on a regular basis can be very helpful in a spiritual sense, especially if we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. Secondly, we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us, especially in the lives of the people we live with or encounter each day. It’s possible someone else’s suffering is God’s personal invitation to us to get involved; the problems we read about or encounter in society may be the Lord’s way of showing us where we can make a difference. There are many wonderful organizations always in need of more volunteers, and there are many suffering people all around us in need of our caring presence and compassionate response. Thirdly, we need to do something each day to make God’s Kingdom a bit more present in the world, acting in a selfless manner that reminds people of God’s love for them and invites them to respond and accept the Gospel. It doesn’t have to be a great or heroic act on our part, but merely a simple sacrifice, a genuine act of kindness, or a sincere prayer for someone else. A little seed of faith of this type, planted again and again and nourished with prayer and love, can bring forth a rich harvest. Most saints don’t become holy all at once, but as result of a lifetime of humble sacrifices and loving actions—and Jesus invites us to use this formula for sanctity too. We may not be called to rule a kingdom, like the daughter of the king in the story, but Jesus gives us the chance to be part of one—and acting upon this invitation is the most important thing we can ever do.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.