Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 27, 2014
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 27, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today’s gospel tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like
a treasure found in a field,
or a pearl of great price found after long searching,
that when one finds it he “goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”
It is beautiful imagery, and evokes keen appreciation of the wonderful treasures
that await us in the kingdom of heaven.
But the thing is, the kingdom, as Jesus tells us, is already here;
not perfectly, but nascently,
as on earth we share in the treasures of the kingdom
that exists here on earth in the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
The Church is the Kingdom on earth.
This begs the questions:
Do we recognize the treasures we find in the Church?
And most importantly:
how many of us would trade everything we have
in exchange for the treasures of Christ’s kingdom?
This last week we heard about two different stories of people who did just that.
The first story was about a Catholic woman in Sudan, named Meriam Ibrahim,
who had been imprisoned in Sudan, awaiting execution.
This week, after months of intense negotiation by the Italian government
and the Vatican,
the Sudanese government had freed Meriam
and she was flown to Rome to meet with the Pope.
A great story.
But the real story was the reason she had been in prison in the first place:
her only crime was that she had converted from Islam to Catholicism
and now refused to recant her Christianity and return to Islam.
And for that they sentenced her to death.
She had literally traded everything she had—including her very life—
to be faithful to Christ and His Church.
The second story was about the plight of Christians, mainly Catholics, in Iraq,
who have increasingly become the target of persecution of
the terrorist army called the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” or “ISIS.”
This last week ISIS in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq,
issued an ancient and familiar order to these Christians: “submit or die.”
But the Islamists were “generous,” in their own corrupt way:
by “submit” they meant either convert to Islam,
or stay Christian but pay heavy taxes for the privilege of
becoming permanent, subservient and silent second-class citizens;
and by “die” they meant either be executed
or leave the country and everything you own.
Almost all of them, 10s of thousands, decided to leave,
and to leave everything behind
rather than convert or remain under the thumb of thugs,
having to comprise their faith more and more every day.
The story of the pearl of great price has a real meaning
to Meriam and the Iraqi Christians.
What does it mean to us?
Today many Christians in the West see the faith as merely a source of comfort.
They focus on passages of Scripture like those we find in today’s psalm :
“O Lord…Let your kindness comfort me…
Let your compassion come to me ….”
But when it comes down to it, they value gold and comfort more than God
and silver and pleasure more than his Church.
So that the rest of the words of today’s psalm fall on deaf ears:
“The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces….
I love your command more than gold, however fine.” And the idea of giving up all that they have on earth
to gain the treasures of the kingdom of heaven is inconceivable.
In today’s first reading, God tells Solomon:
“Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
And Solomon responds:
“Give your servant…an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”
And then it says that God “was pleased” that he had
“asked …not for a long life…, nor for riches… but …[to] know what is right.”
God gives us many wonderful gifts,
but one that is crucial for us to enjoy all the others is
“To know what is right and wrong.”
This is the gift God gave to Solomon, and the gift the Psalmist referred to
when he wrote of God’s “law” and “commands.”
And so among the many gems in the treasure chest of the kingdom
he gives us particular teachings about what is right and wrong,
like so many diamonds and rubies—and pearls.
But too many Christians reject them,
because they conflict with their comfort,
or they would cost too much to follow.
For example, 46 years ago this last Friday, on July 25, 1968,
Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae,
reiterating the apostolic teaching of the Church
on the procreation of human life.
A teaching that is not just a matter of what is wrong with contraception,
but also about what is the right way to understand procreation.
A teaching that reveals the right understanding the meaning of man,
as male and female,
being created in the image of the God who is love.
A teaching that reveals that God creates us just
so that he can give himself totally to us in love
and we can give ourselves totally to him in love.
A teaching that reveals that God builds this total-self-giving love
into the very nature of man,
most fundamentally in the relationship
of male and female as husband and wife.
A teaching about how this mutual-self-giving love
is expressed in the bodily act of total-mutual-self-gift: sexual intercourse.
A teaching about how God’s incredible loving generosity in giving life to man,
is imitated as husband and wife give life to children
through the act of physical love.
A teaching that is not merely one jewel,
but a whole jewelry box discovered inside the treasure chest,
a jewelry box filled with the gems of Christ’s teachings on
love, sexuality, family, procreation and marriage itself.
Diamond’s, jades, rubies, sapphires, emeralds—and pearls of great price.
And yet many, actually most, Catholics reject this whole jewelry box
—and all the precious jewels in it.
Some because they think the wisdom of the world about these things
is wiser than the wisdom of Christ and his church.
Some because they have been convinced
that there is no real “right and wrong.”
Some because they think they’d have to give up to much if they accepted it.
And, sadly, some because even their time is too valuable to spend on
trying to learn and understand the Church’s teaching.
But in the end, it’s simply because it would cost too much,
and they are not willing to pay the price.
But what happens if we’re not willing to pay the price
for the treasure of the kingdom?
In today’s Gospel after Jesus tells the parable of the treasure
he gives us a very different parable.
“The kingdom of heaven” he says, “is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. ….what is good [is put] into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” And to make sure we understand his point, he speaks plainly:
“Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out
and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace….”
On the one hand the “righteous,” and the other hand “the wicked.”
On the one hand “right” and the other hand “wrong.”
On the one hand “treasure,” on the other hand the “fiery furnace.”
Christ freely offers both, and we freely accept one or the other.
So, we have a decision to make: is the treasure of Catholicism,
including the knowledge of right and wrong,
worth the price?
Meriam Ibrahim and the Christians in Iraq have faced that choice.
They have found the treasure, the pearl of great price.
And they have sold everything they had to buy it.
No one is threatening to kill us or forcing us to leave our homes.
At least not yet.
But there are strong cultural forces trying to tell us
to abandon the fullness of our Catholic faith.
They tell us that it’s anti-social and anti-freedom.
That it’s contrary to new enlightened ideas of “what is right and wrong.”
That it’s rooted in bigotry and hate.
And so while they don’t threaten to cut our heads off,
they do threatened to cut us off from mainstream of the culture.
And they may not force us to leave our homes and country,
they do threaten to ostracize us from family and friends.
In effect, they tell us if want to be Catholic, it will cost us more than we can bear.
But in reality they are telling us, submit or die.
My friends, in just a moment
we will kneel before our Lord Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament
–one of the most precious jewels in the treasure chest
He’s given to us in his Church.
As we kneel before him, let us thank him for this treasure—all of it.
And let us thank him for the gift of the heroic example
of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Sudan,
and beseech his mercy to keep them safe
and reward them for their fidelity.
And let us beg him to give us the grace to follow their example,
in recognizing, accepting and cherishing
the fullness of treasures of His Church,
in standing against those who try to force us to submit
to false notions of right and wrong,
and in being willing to give up everything we must
in order to be truly faithful Catholics.