Friday, July 29, 2011

Homily, 17th Sun O.T., Year A–Christ, My True Treasure

hidden treasureFor the last few Sundays, we have heard Jesus use several parables in order to describe the Kingdom of God and how the message of His Kingdom should be received. Today we have heard the final ones that Jesus will use, at least for now. This message is arguably Jesus’ most important message, the message he was sent by the Father to proclaim. In the whole New Testament, the phrase “Kingdom of God” occurs 122 times and 90 of these are from Jesus Himself (Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth I, 47). Whenever Jesus speaks of the Kingdom then, we should listen up. “Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Mt 13:43).

In these parables, Jesus used everyday language and images familiar to his audience to reveal deep truths about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember some of these parables? First he described our souls which can be more or less receptive of the word of the Kingdom just like soil can be more or less receptive of the seeds that the farmer sows. Then Jesus explained that the Kingdom, as it is manifest on earth, is made up of both good and bad people who will only completely be divided on the last day, just like wheat and weeds that grow together until the final harvest. Next Jesus showed the power that a seemingly small and insignificant message can really have, just like the tiny mustard seed that can grow into the size of a tree, or the tiny amount of yeast that can make many, many pounds of dough rise. Finally, the kingdom of God is priceless like hidden treasure, beautiful like the most valuable pearl, all-encompassing like a fisherman’s net, and timeless like the mysteries shrouded in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New.

For me, the two short parables of the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl, hit closest to home. These parables describe how I ultimately came to be a priest. But it all goes back to a Protestant girl – yes, a Protestant girl put me on the road to the priesthood! Up until my senior year in college, ’01-’02, I had been a lukewarm Catholic at best. I knew what the Church taught, but I didn’t know why, and it didn’t even dawn on me to care. I was completely happy with a very superficial, shallow Catholic faith. I never knew or imaged what a deeper Catholicism even was. I was blissfully ignorant. For all I knew, I was a good, normal Catholic. It’s not that I rejected a more profound living-out of my faith, I just simply never heard of it.

At the beginning of my senior year I started dating a girl who was Christian, but non-denominational. The longer we dated, the more she got to know me and my family, and soon she began to ask me questions about my faith that no one had ever asked me before and that I had never asked myself before; like “Why do you go to confession to a priest? Why do you have statues in Church? Why do Catholics pray the rosary? Why does the priest put a piece of the host in the chalice at Mass?”…. wait… He does what!? I never even noticed that! At the height of my lukewarm-ness, I could only answer, “Pfff, I dunno, that’s just what they told us!” I had no idea why I did what I did, why my fellow parishioners did what they did, or why I was who I was. She helped me to realize how utterly clueless I was about even the basic elements of being a Catholic.

In order to feel less lame, I got on the Internet to try to find the answers to her questions. But, I was a treasure-hunter without a map and stumbled on many websites that only complicated my search further – sites from people attacking Catholicism, sites from Catholics attacking themselves, and sites from Catholics who thought they knew what they were talking about but didn’t. Finally through much trial and error I came upon a few that were very clear, faithful to Church teaching, easy to read, and very helpful. Two I remember the most are the website for the Catholic channel,, and the website for Catholic Answers,

When I finally found the Truth, I felt like I was living both of today’s parables at the same time. In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who finds it stumbles upon it by accident. In early Palestine there were constant wars and pillages. We can imagine that it would be fairly common for a man to be tilling his garden and unearth treasure that had been stolen and buried for safekeeping decades before him. But, according to the laws then, “Finder’s Keepers” did not apply. If someone found treasure on a piece of land that wasn’t his, he had to buy the land in order to keep it. For the man in our parable, even though it was an accidental find, he spared no expense in acquiring the land where he found the treasure. It cost him dearly, but it was a sacrifice that was worth making.

In the parable of the valuable pearl, rather than dealing with a treasure accidentally found, this is a true treasure-hunt. Here the pearl merchant is on the lookout for the most valuable pearl he can find. He knows it’s out there, he’s been looking everywhere for it, he would give anything for it, he must find it. When he finally does, nothing else matters, and he sells all that he has in order to buy it.

I, no doubt, was told at one point or another why we believe what we believe – I distinctly remember having a good Catholic education. But this time I was listening with ears that wanted to hear, and eyes that wanted to see. I discovered, for what felt like the very first time, why we go to Mass, what the Mass means, what… rather Who… the Eucharist is, why we go to confession to a priest, why we pray the rosary, what statues mean and so much more. I discovered why I had gone to Catholic schools all those years, why our family went to Mass every Sunday, what we did there every Sunday, what the priest did, what GOD did, every Sunday. I discovered why I made the Sign of the Cross all the time, why my dad taught my brothers and I the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Angel of God, and other prayers. It all came together for the first time. My mind was flooded with all new vistas of the Catholic faith that I had never imagined. I felt fully alive. I had indeed stumbled upon a hidden treasure, a hidden treasure that was in plain sight. At the end of the day, this treasure wasn’t a set of teachings though, or a set of well-worded answers, it was a person: Jesus Christ, who called me to see and hear and chose me to reveal himself too more deeply, through His Church.

Because this treasure was really Him, I felt at the same time like the pearl merchant, searching more and more for the Truth. I kept reading more and more, devouring everything I could find that explained or defended the many doctrines and values of Catholicism. This search for more and more of the Truth changed my life… it had to change if I was going to have any integrity at all, if I was going to try to live up to the faith I was given. Great and beautiful treasures come at a great price. My relationship with my Protestant girlfriend didn’t work out; several of my friends rejected me for my newfound life as a faithful Catholic trying to actually be Catholic; I gave up a relatively high-paying job as a software developer for an investment firm in downtown Louisville…

The cost and the sacrifice have been more than worth it! The Truth doesn’t bind you up. It not only sets you free, it makes you free. Those sacrifices gave me meaning and purpose and direction in life. I came to know Christ and His Church for what seemed like the first time. I had someone and something to fight for, to live for, to die for. I had a challenge I could face and work hard for. I had someone and something to love. The more I learned about Christ’s actions in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, the more I fell in love with those and the more I began to imagine what it would be like if I was celebrating Mass or hearing confessions. Christ’s Holy Priesthood was the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.

I don’t tell you all of this because I’m perfect or anything like that – I have ducked, dodged, and sabotaged God throughout the treasure-hunt that has been my vocation and discernment. I tell you all of this as a witness, as someone who can say that this is really true, that when you make Christ the treasure of your life, the most valuable pearl worth searching for, then he will help you make the sacrifices that are required. St. Teresa of Avila assures us in her famous work, the Way of Perfection, “God never fails to help someone who decides to leave all things for his sake” (Navarre, note Mt 13:44-52). And St. Bernard describes beautifully how Christ is like no other treasure, “He is always new, and constantly renews the soul; he never grows old because he will never fade away” (ibid.). We cannot say that about any other treasure, even our most valued relationships. Christ must be our treasure if we are to be truly happy. Perhaps you may find that when you stumble upon him and make sacrifices to bring him into your life that it was actually he who was searching and longing for you the whole time. You are his pearl, a pearl so valuable that he gave everything, even his own life, to make you his own. What will you give for him?

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