Monday, July 28, 2014

Smelly Fish and Fine Pearls

Readings for Sunday, July 27/ 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 3:5,7-12

Psalm 119
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Last weekend the Lord gave us three parables about the identifying features of the Kingdom of Heaven: the evil mixed with the good, the exponential growth from seed to bush, and the transformative power of even the smallest bit. Today we continue with that section of the Gospel and hear the Lord Jesus tell us that it is not enough simply to know where the Kingdom of Heaven is. We must choose it for ourselves and be willing to give up everything in order to attain it.

The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price illustrate well the challenge of Jesus. The individuals found something that was of greater worth than all of their other possessions and went to sell all that they had in order to attain the great treasure and pearl. There was nothing that could stop them from doing so because they were filled with such joy and the same should be said of the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come and the Kingdom of Heaven among us and within us even now. There is no greater treasure in the world. Do we live it?

The men who found the treasure and the pearl, if they had found them and then gone off rejoicing that they had found the special treasure but failed to actually go back and get it for themselves would be absolute fools. And us – we, too, would be absolute fools to discover the Kingdom of Heaven and fail to take the steps to attain it because it is greater even than the pearl of great price and the precious treasure. It is so great that there is nothing in this world that can compare to it. That’s why it’s worth setting everything else aside to attain it. But sometimes that ‘everything’ can be difficult to part with.

It’s been said that the cost of discipleship is nothing less than everything, all that we have and are. When I was discerning the priesthood there were many places where I encountered that ‘nothing less than everything’ in concrete ways and the one that was most difficult for me was, of course, the concrete cost of not having a wife and children. The desire for a spouse and children is written in every human heart, but some are invited to live that desire out in a spiritual manner rather than physical and I struggled with that discernment and the ultimate step of willingness to pay that cost. My consolation in those times was to turn to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19, where He says ‘whoever leaves behind father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and lands for my sake and the sake of the gospel will have it paid back a hundred-fold in this lifetime and more in the next.’ Well, I’m here today to tell you that I kinda think Jesus was lying to the disciples when He said a hundred-fold because as a pastor, I am quickly realizing I have way more than a hundred wives because every lady in the parish has a honey-do list for me, I have more kids than I could have dreamed of having and each has specific needs, and I have more brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and so-on than I know what to do with! I say Jesus was lying to them because the abundance of repayment that comes when we give up something for His sake is far beyond a hundred-fold. If He had been more accurate I think it would have scared the disciples at the immensity of the gift they would shortly receive. And that’s not even the best part!

A couple of weeks ago we heard St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tell us that ‘the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us.’ The worst things in this life will seem as absolutely nothing compared to the glory we will experience. But that applies also to the joys – the joys of this life, as good as they are, aren’t even a small bit of what is to come. It’s like comparing apples and Ferraris! That’s the kingdom that awaits us!

Often when we realize this blessed gift that is freely offered to us, there is a sense that in order to accept it and to live it we have to become this entirely new person; I have to stop being me and start being a holy person. This is not at all what Christ calls us to. He actually just calls us to be ourselves, but enlivened with His Holy Spirit. I’ve always had a great love for music. I love to listen to it, sing it, I used to play and write it. When I was in my teens I wanted to be a rock star, so when confirmation time came around I figured who better to help that dream come true than the patron saint of musicians – Pope St. Gregory the Great. So, I picked Gregory and knew I’d be set for the big stage. Fast-forward a few years and I’m in the seminary learning a new style of singing, writing different music, and preparing to perform on an entirely different ‘stage’ for the Lord. My love for music wasn’t erased but it was given a new focus by the Lord and my passion for it has changed to glorify Him in the liturgy instead of at bars and arenas. We could look to St. Paul who zealously lived the Jewish faith and persecuted the Church, but after his conversion he fought for the Church and endured the persecution he once inflicted on the Christians. St. Ignatius of Loyola took a cannonball to the knee in battle and while in the hospital read the life of Christ and learned of the saints and was converted, becoming soon a powerful soldier in the army of Christ. This is what Jesus means in that strange conclusion at the end of the reading today.

Jesus asks if the disciples if they understand and they say ‘Yes!’ (because a good disciple always does, right?) and He continues, saying, “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” The 'old' is me, my gifts, my desires, my weakness, and all that God has made in 'me'. The 'new' is the Holy Spirit-led mission that Christ wants to live out through those 'old' aspects. The point is that Jesus wants us to be ourselves, not anyone else. Whether we’re working at the farm, teaching in the classroom, caring for kids or grandkids, volunteering in the community, or anything else under the sun – do those things as a Catholic. We must not simple be Catholic. We must live Catholic. That’s the little piece about the fish in the net. The Church is the Kingdom and she is full of all sorts of different ‘fish’. But simply being in the net, simply being Catholic, is not enough to get into Heaven. We must be good fish worth keeping. Like a crawfish boil – you don’t eat the dead ones! The same with the Lord; He only takes to Himself the good fish to celebrate the heavenly banquet and the rest are cast into fire because they have no life.

As we come to receive the Lord Jesus today, let us ask these graces: to set aside anything that separates us from Him and to be open to the grace to live the life He has called us to live. Don’t worry about being someone extraordinary. Just be yourself in Christ – that is enough for you and it is enough for Him who made you.  

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