Seventeeth Sunday of Year (A)
(1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)
Our readings this week, my dear People of God, give us great reason for gratitude, great cause for hope and joy. Just think of those words of St. Paul:
Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified. (NAB)
God foreknew each one of you baptized Catholics here present and has predestined you to be formed in the likeness of His Son. How do we know that? Because God the Father called you to faith in Jesus, and -- through the waters of baptism -- to become a member of His Body the Church, where you were endowed by the Gift of God’s Spirit and once washed clean of all your sins.
Now, those are verifiable facts of your lives, and objective proof -- for faith -- that God the Father has called you and predestined you in Jesus.
You are also being glorified; for that outpouring of the Spirit of Christ into your soul was the beginning of a life-long process whereby the Spirit of Jesus seeks to lead you ever further along the way of Jesus until ultimately you are endowed with a God-given share in the glory of Jesus before the Father. For example, every time you receive Jesus in Holy Communion and open yourself up to Him in loving prayer, commitment and obedience, that glory, which shines with resplendent brilliance on the face of Christ, is reflected onto you, and gradually remains shining more and more brightly on you for the Father. You and I -- each one of us known and loved by God the Father before time in Jesus -- are thus destined, through time, for eternal glory if, by the Spirit, we persevere faithfully and humbly in Jesus and His Church!
What degree of glory will be ours? That we do not know and it is probably the wrong sort of question to ask, because the glory of Jesus -- the glory we hope to be allowed to share -- is not an objective, measurable, quantity of which we can be vainly proud, but a quality, a change of heart and mind, a totally selfless and self-sacrificing love, in Jesus, for the Father.
We do know that Mary – given to us as our Mother by Jesus from the Cross on Calvary – was a simple girl from Nazareth, and is now Queen of Heaven and of all the angels, principalities, and powers; and we believe that, because we love Jesus and hope for, look forward to, His heavenly promises, our glorification as her children has begun. And our faith is confirmed by the fact that, although subject to temptation here on earth, we do not allow ourselves to be ruled by the earthly lusts of our flesh, nor to be dominated by that earthly pride which would drive us to seek earthly success, power, and prestige above all else. As yet, we cannot see the fullness of our on-going glorification, but St. John assures us that, when Christ is revealed in all His glory at the end of time, we too -- members of His Body being led by His Spirit -- shall be like Him and able to share in His glory:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I John 3:2)
What we have to do therefore is to remain faithful to Jesus in the response we make to our experience of life; for, as St. Paul reassured us in our second reading:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
That means, that in all the events of our life, no matter how uninspiring or perhaps unwanted, however puzzling or even painful they may be, God our Father is at work: seeking to form us, by His Spirit, in and through those very experiences, into the likeness of His Son so that we might ultimately be able to share His glory.
Surely, therefore, dear friends in Christ, we can both gratefully appreciate and joyfully respond to Jesus’ parables in today’s Gospel reading:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
There, Jesus puts before us two individuals: one, an ordinary man and a chance-finder, the other, a business man and a professional-searcher; two very different people yet with the same characteristic attitude; for, when they find or track down something of supreme value they are both able to appreciate it enough to want to make it their own at whatever cost, both of them willing and glad to give all they have in order to acquire such a treasure, such a pearl!
Now, all of us here are in a similar position, for Jesus is the treasure, the pearl beyond compare, and the Father Himself evokes our appreciation of Him:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father. (John 6:44s.)
Why has the Father drawn us to Jesus?
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Yes, Jesus is indeed the treasure, the pearl of great price, and each of us knows where He is to be Personally found and revealed in all His glory: in the Scriptures and Sacraments of Mother Church; and in our sincere experience of, and faithful response to, Life as God offers it to us.
Only the Spirit of Jesus, given in fullness to Mother Church, can reveal to us, in and through her teaching, the fullness of Jesus' saving truth contained in the Scriptures; only the Spirit of Jesus can share the life of Jesus with us through the Sacraments given us in Mother Church as sources of divine life and conduits of saving grace. One can indeed find treasures of wisdom and pearls of beauty in the various religions and traditions wherein men and women have sought and served God throughout human history. However, the one supreme treasure, the one pearl precious beyond all compare, is Jesus -- God's supreme revelation and gift of His very Self – and He is to be found uniquely and supremely in the Christian Scriptures and Catholic Sacraments of Mother Church, unfailingly sustained and infallibly guided, by the very Spirit of Jesus.
Our final consideration today -- our response to life – brings Prayer to our attention.
You know about that treasure in the field of the Church, that pearl of great price in the Eucharist, but what efforts are you willing to make to ensure that the treasure available to you, the pearl being offered you, will indeed be yours for all eternity?
Have you noticed that once again we have put the wrong sort of question: speaking about getting instead of giving? Life’s greatest question, surely, must be: how can we give our whole selves – mind, heart, soul, and being – to Jesus, God’s priceless pearl, given for us in a love transcending time?
Pope St. Gregory the Great tells a story which goes something like this: imagine someone going on, let us say, a journey on the Orient Express, travelling in luxury towards some wonderful destination, let us imagine, Venice. It is a long journey; deliberately so, because the trip is meant to embrace many places of great interest along the way: places of beauty such as mountain villages and places of curious attraction, such as ancient bazaars. Let us further imagine that the train stops at some of these places and, on one particular day, allows passengers to alight in order to visit a most famous bazaar during a two-hour stop by the Express. One of the passengers goes from stall to stall, into one bar or boutique after another; he haggles here and there for bargains to take back, and in this delightful process forgets all about the ultimate destination for which he had set out on this long, expensive, journey! He forgets about Venice, the uniquely situated and wonderfully adorned city of history, culture and beauty, he forgets all about the friends awaiting him there, and misses, indeed forgets all about, the train. What a fool!
People of God, so many Christians are like that, allowing themselves to be distracted from seeking the Lord by the pleasures and cares of life. Others there are, once faithful servants, perhaps true lovers of the Lord, who -- over time – have allowed themselves to gradually lose their early fervour and love for Jesus. We saw this in the life of King Solomon, as we heard in the first reading:
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act…. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for, such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like. If you live in my presence as your father David lived, sincerely and uprightly, doing just as I have commanded you, I will establish your throne… over Israel forever.
However, King Solomon did not persevere in loving and following the Lord; he allowed himself to be distracted by his worldly renown and successes – that is by his self-love – and by the many fleshly loves of his life:
When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of his father David had been. Adoring Astarte, and Milcom; building a high place to Chemosh, and to Molech, the idol of the Ammonites, on the hill opposite Jerusalem, he did likewise for all his foreign wives who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.
People of God, the Father may not have appeared to us but He has called and still does call us to Jesus; and the Holy Spirit – the Promise of the Father -- has been given to Mother Church and to us, to guide and support us in our search for Jesus, in our endeavours to centre our life on Him. Let us not be distracted, led astray, by earthly pleasures; let us not be deceived by the temporal security promised by money or perhaps by sought-after popularity; let us not be put off by the troubles and difficulties which are an unavoidable part of our calling as disciples of Jesus, our Lord and Master. We are on a journey and we must press on to the end, because that is the hall-mark of the true Catholic and Christian. And this is where Prayer demands our attention and commitment, for prayer is co-extensive with life itself for a Christian whose search for Jesus, whose endeavour to find, love, and respond to Jesus, in all life’s encounters and activities, is often called his, or her, spiritual life, his or her prayer life. Prayer cannot be limited to longer or shorter periods on one’s knees before the Blessed Sacrament or in private …. Rather, it is like a mountain range hidden under the great ocean of life which appears as, culminates in, an island …. That beautiful island of prayer is only real and substantial insofar as it is the culmination of an apparently hidden but extensively solid foundation and support. Prayer is indeed, as the old catechism beautifully put it, ‘a raising of the mind and heart to God’; but it is more than that, it is a sharing of one’s life with Jesus, by the Spirit, before and for the Father.
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NAB)
Prayer is the engine, set and maintained in motion by the power of the Spirit, carrying us along Jesus’ way to our heavenly home, without which we quickly become like those merely nominal Catholics mentioned in our third parable today, who find themselves caught like bad fish, idly and perhaps unwillingly, in the Church’s net and thrown away. Let us rather follow the advice of the Psalmist:
Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His face continually, remember His wonders which He has done. Glory in His holy name. (105:3-5)