24 July 2011

Homily - 24 July 2011

The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

No farmer works the soil expecting to find a treasure buried there (cf. Matthew 13:44).  Likewise, no merchant has high expectations of finding "a pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45).

When they do find such an item, the joy they experience at finding it comes from the unexpectedness of such a find in the midst of the ordinary pursuits of life.  It seems to be a pure gift from the heavens, a gift that others have not yet found.

If a farmer is to find a great treasure in his field, or a merchant to find a priceless pearl or a fisherman to haul in a great catch, he must already be about the work of farming, of buying and selling and of fishing.  He cannot simply sit idly by in his house and hope such things come to him.

Let us consider for a moment this pearl and this treasure.  Because Jesus speaks to us here in parables, we know these images must have a deeper meaning than the ones they have on the surface.  If we delve into the depths of their meaning we realize they are nothing less than Jesus himself.  He is himself the Pearl of Great Price and the Treasure Hidden in the Field; he is the net that has caught us in his embrace.

Both the pearl and the treasure were already present before the farmer and the fisherman set about their work.  So it is with all who seek Jesus Christ and his kingdom; he is present to them even before they begin to search for him.  Saint Augustine summed it up nicely when he wrote in his Confessions:

Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you - the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.[1]

As fishes must yield to the fisherman’s net, so must we yield to the net of the great fisher of men who longs to draw us into his kingdom.

We see, then, that the Lord Jesus is often found in the most unexpected of places and wherever he is, there is his kingdom.  He has already given himself to us in the Sacrament of Baptism in the simple gift that comes from the outpouring of water and the Holy Spirit.  In these life-giving waters the pearl of grace and the treasure of faith has been entrusted to us to be guarded and increases and his net has been cast over us (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).  But how do we keep this treasure safe, and how do we yield to this net?

King Solomon points the way out to us.  When the Lord God addressed to him that surprising and risky command, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," Solomon demonstrated by his words that he already possessed the gift he requested of the Lord, at least in, as it were, a shadowy form, because he could not have asked for the gift of wisdom without already being wise.

King Solomon intuited what Saint Paul wrote to the people of Rome: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

The Son of David knew that God's purpose for him was to "govern this vast people of yours" by be able to "distinguish right from wrong" (I Kings 3:9).  But having asked for and received this gift, Solomon did not always act wisely and found himself at times in serious sin.  He did not always make use of the gift he was given, he did not always yield to the Lord’s net; are you and I any different?

How often do we not make use of the gift of faith that has been given to us?  Faith in the Lord’s goodness and care for us helps us to keep farming, buying and selling, and fishing as the men in his parables.  When a time of difficulty comes we back away from the Lord.  Having received the Ten Commandments we live without reference to them.  When a doubt or question arises about the faith we have received we do not bother to study the faith more deeply and to know it - and Jesus Christ - more intimately.  When we feel the Lord calling us one direction, we go the other way.

I wonder: if the Lord were to say to us, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," for what would we ask?

Some centuries ago, the Lord said something similar to Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Toward the end of his life, Saint Thomas, one of the greatest minds the Church has ever known, was writing a treatise on the Eucharist, struggling to complete it.  In great frustration, the quiet man of God threw his text at the foot of a crucifix, asking the Lord what he thought of what he had written.

The voice of God came through the figure of the Crucified Lord, saying to him: “You have written well of me, Thomas. What would you have?”

Saint Thomas could choose whatever he wanted, whatever he desired.  Would he ask for wealth or fame or power?  Would he ask for love or athletic skill or simple pleasures?  He could ask for anything; what would he ask of the Lord?

Like King Solomon before him, Saint Thomas asked neither “for a long for [him]self, nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies” (I Kings 3:).  He answered the Savior with these profound words: “Nil nisi te, Domine, nil nisi te (Only you, Lord, only you).”

The Angelic Doctor answered wisely and honestly.  Saint Thomas “wanted nothing more than Christ, nothing other than Christ, nothing less than Christ.”[2]  He knew that, as he had written earlier in his life, “God alone satisfies.”[3]  I wonder, would we ask the same of the Lord?

If we ask the Lord only for him then we will yield to his net and we will always have the joy of his treasure in our hearts; we will find ourselves in his kingdom.  But how do we keep this initial joy of finding that buried treasure, that great pearl, the joy of being caught in the Lord’s net?

Saint Damien of Moloka’i once said: “To have begun is nothing, the hard thing is to persevere.  This is the work of God’s grace.  That grace will never fail me, I am sure of that, provided I do not resist it.  Pray for me.  I will do all that depends on me.”[4]

This is true for us, as well.  We can stay in the Lord’s net and remain in his joy by relying on God’s grace, by desiring him above all us.  If we do not resist his grace but yield to his net, we will be brought to the point where we can truly say, “Only you, Lord, only you.”

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.
[2] Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, 2008), 12.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Expos. In symb apost, I. In Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1718.
[4] In Vital Jourdain, SS.CC., The Heart of Father Damien.  Francis Larkin, SS.CC. and Charles Davenport, trans. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955), 50.

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