It was 30 years ago, December 1987. Speaking from St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to seek God’s will with the talents we’ve received, in causes small or large. It was a poignant message in time, and also poignantly timeless.
That year had seen tremendous breakthroughs by leaders of the world’s temporal powers. That very month, on December 8, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty—the greatest nuclear-missile-elimination treaty in history. The Cold War was peacefully ending.
Ronald Reagan personally saw such achievements as him using his talents to accomplish God’s will. “Whatever time I have left is for Him,” Reagan pledged after surviving an assassination attempt in March 1981. He would use his talents for God, especially against an evil empire.
John Paul II might have had such larger achievements in mind (and smaller ones, too) when he gave a blessing from St. Peter’s at the close of the year, Christmas week, where he pointed to the parable of the talents. “The story of the human race described by Sacred Scripture is, even after the fall into sin, a story of constant achievements,” said the pontiff, “in response to the divine vocation given from the beginning to man and to woman.”
The Pope applied this philosophical statement to practical realities, to all men and women and their gifts. Such could be a challenging task, but it was a duty nonetheless. “Anyone wishing to renounce the difficult yet noble task of improving the lot of man in his totality, and of all people,” averred the Pope, “with the excuse that the struggle is difficult and that constant effort is required, or simply because of the experience of defeat and the need to begin again, that person would be betraying the will of God the Creator.” The Pope pointed to “the Lord Jesus Himself, in the parable of the talents,” who emphasized the severe treatment given to the man who hid the gifts he received.
“It falls to us,” said the Holy Father, “who receive the gifts of God in order to make them fruitful, to ‘sow’ and ‘reap.’” A deeper pondering of these severe words “will make us commit ourselves more resolutely to the duty, which is urgent for everyone today,” to work together for others, for the whole human being, and for all people.
The achievements then being made by men like John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were an extension of their commitment to do the work of God on behalf of others, for the whole human being, for all people. It was always a struggle, often fraught with defeat. It was, nonetheless, a commitment to be resolutely pursued.
In a speech at Notre Dame on May 17, 1981, Ronald Reagan had stated: “When great causes are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
Yes, duty—to do right, and to resist evil.
As John Paul II’s Catechism stated (section 409): “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, often at great cost to himself.”
That applied not just to John Paul II, to Ronald Reagan, and their battles, but ours. Yes, also ours.
Will you use yours? Will you use the talents God has given you? Will you stand up to the secular forces today threatening our religious freedom, or will you cower in fear of being called names for standing for what’s right?
At Christmas time, we think of Christ and gifts. Well, here’s a gift that we, in turn, can return to Christ by putting to good use the unmistakable talents bestowed upon us.
DR. PAUL KENGOR, PH.D. is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.