Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, November 07, 2011

“‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; enter into the joy of your master.’”(Matthew 25:20-21)

Vegetable garden

 November 13, 2011
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 25:14-30 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Thirty-some years of ministry to the hospital bed-bound has provided me a perspective I’m certain would never have been mine otherwise. Especially has this been true with the terminally ill, those whose death is imminent and who know it. When one’s life reaches the edge of the precipice, there’s nothing left to share but truth. Nothing to break the silence but the intimacy of shared faith. The gift of many such moments has been mine. But they’re not all the tear-wrenching, Kleenex-drenching scenes Hollywood might produce. Certainly not Frank’s.

“There’s no such thing as dying! Either you’re living or you’re dead!” Those were his last angry words. Aroused from his semi-conscious state by family members quietly weeping at bedside, he’d heard just one too many references to his emerging demise. Well, he’d had enough! And so, as his last earthly act, he sat up in his bed with a startling energy and proclaimed the truth: “There’s no such thing as dying! Either you’re living or you’re dead!”

Who could argue with that? In fact, as one’s end nears, life often becomes even more purposeful as it musters new energy. To be alive means more than it ever did in long-gone days when it was taken for granted. Ironically, those deemed “dying” may be more truly alive than they’ve ever been. Such seemed the case for Ron, whose true story, entitled “Memories Bloom in an Unlikely Garden,” was published recently by “Boston Globe” columnist Joan Wickersham. She writes:

“Driving home from Boston on the afternoon of May 5th, Ron and Cindy didn't talk much. There wasn't much to say. A team of doctors had just told them that Ron's esophageal cancer – diagnosed only days before – was inoperable. No cure. No hope of long-term survival. With radiation and chemo, Ron might have nine months to a year.

“They'd been together since high school. He was only 60. They'd been looking forward to retirement, maybe to traveling a little, to the birth of their second grandchild. Now, suddenly, they were figuring out what they wanted to do over the next nine months to a year. ‘I'd like to have a garden,’ Ron said.

“Cindy was surprised – he'd never grown anything, never expressed the slightest interest in gardening. ‘That would be nice,’ she said vaguely, imagining a couple of tomato plants. Four days later, she came home from work to find the yard filled with men, boards, dirt, a Bobcat and a 20-by-30-foot raised garden. Ron, who had recently marked his 29th year of sobriety, had mentioned at an AA meeting that he wanted a garden, and his friends had showed up to build him one.

“He was sitting in a chair, watching, talking, laughing. There was no last-wish solemnity about the scene; Cindy was struck by how happy and relaxed they all seemed. Ron tried to pay for the materials; the guys wouldn't let him. Cindy kept thanking them, telling them how amazing they were. When they left, she turned to Ron. ‘Have we met? You don't garden. I don't garden. This thing is gigantic – what the [heck] are we going to do with it?’ ‘I think it will bring people together,’ he said. Over the next days, he was able to sit by the garden sometimes, but soon pain and exhaustion kept him in bed.

“Friends stopped by; they didn't want to tire Ron, or tax Cindy too much by asking for details of how he was – it was clear how he was – so they worked in the garden. They planted seeds and seedlings. Cindy's brother installed a sprinkler system. Neighbors planted corn. Ron and Cindy's 8-year-old grandson made a path, using leftover flagstones he found lying around the yard. Visitors came, didn't know what to say, and weeded.

“Ron died on June 7th. After the funeral, people went back to the house and wandered out to look at the garden. Ron and Cindy's grandson ran around handing out radishes, strawberries and lettuce leaves. Men in suits were hoeing, staking tomato plants.

“All summer, the garden became a quiet focus for people who'd known Ron. It produced like crazy: beans, cucumbers, peppers, squash, okra, beets, basil and more tomatoes than anyone knew what to do with. People who otherwise might have been too shy to visit were comfortable dropping by to weed and water and harvest, and they ended up talking, telling Cindy funny stories, or stories of how Ron had helped them. They stood out in the dirt and cried.

“Ron had been right that the garden would bring people together. It couldn't cure anything or heal the loss or soften grief and loneliness, but it gave everyone something to do.

“She was careful, picking vegetables over the summer, not to romanticize the garden too much, not to turn him into Saint Ron, but at the same time to appreciate his clarity, to let herself feel how deeply she had been cared for and was still cared for. ‘I don't want this to become a memorial garden after I'm gone,’ Ron had told her. ‘Just enjoy it. Have an eggplant on me.’” (Albany, NY, “Times-Union,” September 24, 2011)

The gospel parable we hear today is familiar enough, its theme challenging enough: “‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; enter into the joy of your master.’”(Matthew 25:20-21)

“Just so,” I can imagine Jesus further proclaiming, “I’ve given every one of you talents, abilities and imagination. And I’ve given you a lifetime to do something constructive with them. I don’t want to hear any whining or excuses! Why, if my good servant Ron could enrich the lives of others even after death, of what might you be capable? You who are indeed alive this day, of what might you be capable?

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