Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dr. Naft - A Teacher who Believed in Me

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
bringing 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.'

As a priest I’m often given the opportunity to reflect on life.  It happened recently at a conference where we were called to share in small groups.  I have a friend in the seminary who jokes that he believes this is what hell will be like.  We were asked to share about the first time we had a teacher that really believed in us.  I knew who mine was right away.  Dr. Naft was my Speech teacher in my first year of college at Tri-C.  Now I have to tell you that I was not thrilled about speech class.  I was terrified to have to speak in front of other people.  I remember I was sweating bullets, nervous, legs shaking for my first speeches.  But he saw something in me and said something to me in a way that I’d never heard before.  “Michael you have a gift for this.”  It was the first time in my life that I’d ever heard someone say something like that to me… it wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I heard a teacher say that he actually believed in me.  I have never forgotten that moment. 

            In the weeks since then I have thought about Dr. Naft often and thought I should let him know what I’m doing now.  I should let him know what a profound affect he had on me.  So I decided to look him up.  I tried Facebook… No.  LinkedIn… No.  Twitter… No.  I wasn’t finding him anywhere so I had to go the old fashioned way… I found him in the phone book!  He lives in Solon.  So one evening around 9 O’clock at night I was finishing up with all of the stuff that I “had to do” in the office and could now get to something that I wanted to do.  I nervously waited as the phone rang and a woman answered.  I asked if Dr. Naft was there: “Who’s this?” she said as if expecting a telemarketer.  I said “Well, I don’t think he will know me, but I think I was one of his students.  Did he teach at Tri-C around 2001?”  “I’ll put him on,” she responded. 

            I recognized his voice immediately and began introducing myself as “Fr. Denk”.  I said that I had him back in 2001 and he said: “Well I’ve been retired quite a while.”  I said in a very gentle warm tone “Dr. Naft, I wouldn’t expect you to remember me because I’m a lot different now than I was back then.  But you were the first teacher that ever told me that I had a gift… you were the first one that I knew ever believed in me.  And I just wanted you to know what an impact that has had on me over the years.  I want you to know that I use that gift all the time now… I’m a Catholic Priest and I have to get up in front of hundreds of people every Sunday and Preach.  I’ve also been asked to preach for Catholic Relief Services to priests in other diocese and am often asked to speak at other parishes and events.  I just wanted you to know that you helped me discover this gift.” 

            I turns out that he’s Jewish!  But he loved that I called.  We had the most wonderful 15 minute conversation.  I could tell by his voice that he absolutely delighted in me.  He said “Well I did have a knack for seeing things in people.”  And just the idea that one of his students was using the gift of speech brought him such great joy.  He even offered to take me out to lunch just to hear more about it.  There was so much joy that was shared... me in what I was doing and in what he had done for me, and he seeing some of the fruit of his years of teaching.
How much more does God delight in us?  God, the Father, who created us… who knows us… whose Spirit shapes us and molds us.  Imagine what it will be like for us after this long journey of faith when we finally come to that last moment when we meet our maker and we say: “God, look at all that I have done with the gifts you’ve given me.” 
In the Parable of the Talents we hear that a man went on a long journey and came back to see what his servants had done with the talents that he had given to them.  The interesting thing is that when the master discovers what they have done with their talents he not only gave them more but he ended each time with this phrase: “Come and share your master’s joy!” 
God takes such joy in us when we use our gifts. 

Now here’s the part for you to think about.  Have you ever had an experience like this when someone helped you to realize your gifts?  It’s a wonderful thing when we realize that we do have gifts, that there are people that believe in us, and that our talents will bring God, ourselves, and the world great joy.

First, do you know what your talents are?  God has given each and every one of us gifts and talents.  In a special way you have been given a gift.  Do you know what it is?  God created you, shaped you, molded you into being and continues to work in your life.  He has gifted you with something that is very special to Him and very personal to you.  Do you realize the talent that He has given to you? 

Second, are you using your talent?  God gave us these gifts and talents to be used for the life of the world.  In some way we can use our gifts and talents to serve God and to build up the Kingdom of God.  Are you using your gifts? 

Finally, is there fruit?  Just as we hear in the parable today one servant says: 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.'  The other “Master you gave me two talents.  See, I have made you two more.”  When we use the talents that we have been given there will be an increase… there will be a fruitfulness… there will be an abundance.  This is the way of really determining if we know our gifts and are using them.  You see life wasn’t meant to be a drudgery… it is supposed to be enjoyed.  When we use our talents we will find that God is going to bless us more and more.  We will be using them in ways that we never imagined.  If there isn’t this fruit, this joy in your life… maybe you haven’t been using your talents.  Maybe you haven’t yet discovered your giftedness.  Pray that God will send someone into your life that will help you to see them.  Ask God what your talent is.  Ask God what he is calling you to in this Life.  And you will discover your true vocation. 

And just like the master after he returned from his long journey.  God, our master, will take great delight in us when we share with him all that we have done with the talents that He has given to us.  Imagine that moment when we meet our Maker, when we see God face to face, and he says…

“Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy!” 


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