Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The pearl of great price: The Eucharist, the child, the poor. Sermon of July 24th

St. Anthony of Egypt sold all he had, entered the desert,
and endured every trial with joy - he had found the pearl of great price!

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 24th, 2011
Matthew 13:44-52

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
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.

When we hear the parables of the treasure and of the pearl, and learn how we are to be ready to sacrifice all things for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, we may recall the memory of St. Anthony of the Desert – the Father of Monasticism, who lived at the turn of the 4th century.
St. Anthony was only a young man, about 18 years old, when his parents both died and he was left an orphan. Wondering what the good Lord desired of him, he felt inspired to go to the church. Upon entering, Anthony heard the words of St. Matthew’s Gospel being proclaimed: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.

The young St. Anthony was deeply moved by these words and felt inspired to give generously to the poor. You see, his family had been very wealthy, so he sold a good portion of his inheritance and gave it to the poor.
However, he did not give everything away – perhaps he was thinking, “Lord, if you are really serious, if you want me to give over everything; you are ‘gonna have to say it directly!”
[those, of course, are my own words … I doubt St. Anthony would have put it quite that way!] J

Shortly thereafter, Anthony again entered the Church and heard the words of St. Luke’s Gospel: Take nothing for your journey; neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats.
Deeply moved by the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony immediately went forth, sold what little inheritance was left to him, and gave the money to the poor. Then, this heroic soldier of Christ, left the world and entered the desert as a hermit. There he would remain for nearly 100 years!
Many people came to St. Anthony to seek his counsel, and he ultimately founded the first monasteries in the history of the Church. Was it easy? Of course it wasn’t easy! He lived in the desert of Egypt! It was very hard, he suffered much, he was bothered by all sorts of crazy people coming and pestering him. And, on top of all that, he suffered terribly from the attacks of demons!
But St. Anthony persevered through all of this because he was filled with a profound spirit of joy. He had found that treasure, he had taken possession of the pearl – having left all things, he obtained the Kingdom.

Now, most of us are not called to seek the pearl and the treasure out in the desert. Surely, some here are called in this way – there are likely some among our young men and women who are called to leave all and follow God through the vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood. But most of us will search for the treasure in the ordinary circumstances of daily life. Where then shall we find the Kingdom in midst of the world?
I want to point out three places where we find the treasure, where we gain that pearl – and these are three occasions which are common and ordinary.

First, we find the treasure in the Sunday Mass. If the Eucharist isn’t the pearl of great price, I don’t know what is! It is at the Mass that we gain the riches of everlasting life. Here, in our Sunday worship, we store up treasures in heaven.
How valuable the Mass is! There is nothing more important in our week than Sunday Mass
In fact, Sunday Mass (or Mass on Saturday evening) is so valuable … why, it’s even more important than hunting and fishing season! J
The Eucharist is so important, that we wouldn’t ever want to miss it or skip out on the Mass in order to fish or hunt. If we truly understood the value of the Mass and the Gift that we receive, we would never skip Mass – not for travel, not for vacation, not for games.
Remember, this isn’t just about an obligation (though, it is an obligation); we are talking about the treasure and about the pearl – we have found the Kingdom, be filled with joy and give all things in order to attend Sunday Mass every week without exception.

Second, we find the pear of great price in all the good things that God has in store for marriage and family life. If the child isn’t the pear, I don’t know what is! The gift of the child, how could we ever reject the child?!
And yet, far too often, many people (and even many Catholics) refuse to accept the gift of children. Using artificial means of regulating fertility is like finding the treasure and abandoning it. If we knew the gift of the child, we would never use birth control. A nation which uses contraception is a nation which has rejected the child.
God wants us to trust in him! Will it be hard? Of course it will be hard! Remember, Anthony was in the desert for 100 years; it wasn’t easy, but he was joyful. So too, we also must be joyful – consider the gift of the child and the grace of God who will always provide for us, if only we trust in him.
The way to space out children and to be responsible in parenting is to use Natural Family Planning, not contraception. Natural Family Planning is the great means for parents to find the treasure of the Kingdom and to receive God’s plan for their family with joy.

Third, we find the treasure in being generous to the poor. The poor are that treasure hidden in society, neglected and ignored by so many. If we cannot see that the poor are that pearl, then we have missed Christ who is present to us through them.
The US Dollar is losing strength every day – I hear that it is worth less even than the Canadian Dollar. You may as well give your money to the poor before it is worth nothing at all! J
Mercy covers a multitude of sins, and those who are generous to the poor are the true friends of God.

Finally, if we really believe that these three – the Mass, the child, and the poor – truly are the pearl and the treasure, then we ought to be filled with joy! Here is our means of attaining to the Kingdom of God, which is worth more than any passing treasures of earth; let us sacrifice all our self-love, all our selfishness, all our distrust. You will lose nothing, but you gain everything! And, consumed with the joy of God’s Kingdom, we should be bold in speaking of these things with others.
If we believe that the Eucharist is the great Gift that it is, we will try to bring fallen-away Catholic back to Mass. If we know that the child is a pearl given us by the Lord, we will not be afraid to proclaim the truth about marriage and family, and to encourage others to use Natural Family Planning [and parents and grandparents have a special obligation to explain this to their children]. Finally, if we know that the downtrodden are that true treasure, we will not be ashamed to defend the poor and to be a witness of God’s preferential love for them.
Be joyful! Though these pearls and treasures may only be obtained through much sacrifice, if only you preserver in God’s love, you shall soon attain to life everlasting.