17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 26, 2020
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?
Today many Christians see the faith as great a source of comfort.,
especially during this time of great discomfort
with the coronavirus and all its effects.
Not to mention all the distress caused by all the riots and political unrest around us.
So, we 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 ….”
And this is certainly what Christians should do
—go to Jesus and His Church for comfort.
But when it comes down to it,
many Christians value comfort more than the God and His Church.
The Church becomes merely a device for achieving comfort and its sister “pleasure,”
so it they use the Church as a just means to an end.
And so they easily change their focus from God and His Church to other things
that bring comfort and pleasure, things like money or popularity or sex,
especially if those other things bring them more immediately.
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 of great price.
But too many Christians reject them,
because they conflict with their comfort,
or they would cost too much to follow.
For example, 52 years ago today/yesterday, on July 25, 1968,
Pope St. 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 of 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 too 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.”
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?
Would we sell everything we have to buy it.
The dominant cultural around us tries to tell us, even force 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.
No, no one is threatening to cut our heads off,
but they do threaten to cut us off from the mainstream of society.
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 threaten us:
if we want to be truly Catholic, it will cost us more than we can bear.
Are they right?
My friends, in just a moment
we will kneel before our Lord Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament
—the most precious jewel in the treasure chest of His Church.
As we kneel before him, let us thank him for this treasure—all of it.
And let us beg Him to give us the grace to
in recognize, accept and cherish
the fullness of the 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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”