Being Seized and Seizing the Kingdom with Joy, 17th Thursday (I), July 30, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologos, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
July 30, 2015
Ex 40:16-21.34-38, Ps 84, Mt 13:44-53

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Jesus began his public ministry to announcing to us,”The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). His whole work to announce that the long wait was over, that God’s kingdom was already present, that God had brought us all into contact with it, but in order to enter into it, we needed to revolutionize our values, we needed to turn around and repent, we needed to believe in the Gospel and begin to live in the manner of the Gospel. Over the course of these last eight days, we’ve been focusing on the 13th Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, which presents seven different parables about the Kingdom of God and how we’re called to repent from our own fiefdoms and enter that kingdom.
  • Today we encounter the last three parables in the Chapter. (Normally two of these three would have been heard yesterday, but because of the proper Gospel for the Feast of St. Martha, we didn’t hear them and therefore, at the encouragement of the Church, we’ll cover them today with the parable contained in the Gospel for Thursday of the 17th Week). We can begin with that of the dragnet that hauls in all types of fish and then the good fish is kept and the bad tossed back. This points, first, to the fact that in the midst of the kingdom there are people living by the kingdom and people who are not. Everyone is seized, we can say, into the kingdom, but not everyone wants to be there, to live in a way consistent with the kingdom. That is what comes to light at the the judgment. Jesus makes a similar point here to what he said in the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds. Like wheat and weeds in the field, there are both “good” and “bad” fish in the net of the Church. We shouldn’t be shocked that we find in the Church people who are sinners, even occasionally people who are corrupt, unrepentant sinners. There are people within the Church, not to mention within society, who are living the type of life in which they’re being prepared to be tossed out where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, who are the weeds fit for burning at the end. But Jesus preached this parable not fundamentally as an image of predestination, but of conversion, to awaken us and everyone to the fact that just because we’re in the Church doesn’t mean necessarily that we’re guaranteed salvation. It’s not enough to practice the faith on the outside. We have to be living it on the inside. We need to be seeking total communion with Christ.
  • How do we become the “good” fish that are chosen and kept for eternity? It’s not arbitrary on God’s part. It’s based on our choice in response to his choice, our seizing the kingdom after we have been seized in the Church’s net. That’s what brings us to the two other parables today, of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price. In the first parable, we have a poor peasant farmer discovering a buried treasure on his boss’ land by surprise; in the second, we have a pearl hunter finding the pearl of his dreams after a long and lengthy search. But what unites both parables are the same two great lessons about the kingdom of God: first, that the Kingdom — which really means living together with God — is a treasure worth more than everything else in our life combined; and second, it’s a treasure so great that it ought to lead us to be joyful and eager in sacrificing everything else to obtain it. Whether we’ve discovered that Kingdom by surprise or by a strenuous search, God wants us to sense its value and seize it. This is what we see, for example, the apostles do. When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him and become fishers of men, they immediately left everything behind — their boats and nets, their families, their hometown, and the biggest catch of their life — to follow him, because they grasped that the treasure in front of them was far greater than the treasure behind. The same thing happened with St. Matthew, who when Jesus called him to follow him, he left his money on the table, all his ledgers, and in some sense his sins, and followed Jesus immediately. This is all in contrast to the Rich Young Man who when given the choice to follow Jesus in the same way by selling what he had, giving the money to the poor and following Jesus, chose to hold on to his earthly treasure and went away sad. Jesus wants us to look at trading what we have for what he wants to give us the same way a person would look at the offer to trade a small apartment in a bad neighborhood for a mansion in a posh one (with mortgage and taxes paid!), to exchange our 1971 rusty clunker for a brand new, free, souped up Mercedes, to swap paying our own way at a community college for a full scholarship to Harvard or Franciscan University of Steubenville. What we are being asked to leave behind may be far more valuable to us than tiny apartments, failing cars, and average educational opportunities, but what we’re being offered is far more valuable than all the great houses, cars and universities of the world combined.
  • We have all lived this experience. Whether we were just surprised to find the great treasure of God while we were working or going about our ordinary life or whether we found it after a long existential Church, we grasped at some point that God really was a treasure worth our all. And so we were willing to “sell” the great treasure of the marriage and family life to live joyfully in chaste celibate sponsality with him and his Bride the Church; we were willing to sell the potential fortunes we could have made in this world to rejoice in uniting ourselves to him who in his poverty has enriched us immeasurably; we were willing freely to give up our autonomy in order to unite ourselves to him in loving, trusting obedience of the Father until the end.
  • The saint the Church celebrates today likewise did. St. Peter of Imola was born in 406. Early in life, he was captivated by the love of God and set his heart on the treasure of the kingdom. He studied theology and wanted to dedicate himself to the service of the Church. The saintly leader of the Church of Imola, Bishop Cornelius, became a mentor to him and taught him by his words and example how to embrace of life of humility, simplicity, prayer, and self-denial. After his ordination as a deacon, Peter became a monk to dedicate himself to prayer. Everything changed in 430 after the death of the archbishop of Ravenna, the imperial city 30 miles to the east. Bishop Cornelius was asked by the Church in Ravenna to go to Rome to propose for confirmation to Pope St. Sixtus III the name of the priest they had elected to become the new archbishop. The bishop asked Deacon Peter to accompany him on the journey. Pope Sixtus had a dream the night before in which St. Peter and St. Apollonaris (the founding bishop of Ravenna) appeared to him and showed him an image of a young man they said God wanted to be appointed to be the next Archbishop. When Bishop Cornelius and Deacon Peter arrived, St. Sixtus immediately recognized that the 27-year-old deacon as the one from the vision. He overruled the election and appointed this young man the new Archbishop of the city of the emperor, something that was as shocking then as if a 20-something transitional deacon were named Archbishop of New York. Peter was ordained deacon and then bishop and took up his new duties with zeal. As soon as he started to preach, everyone recognized his divine charism. Gallia Placidia, the mother of emperor Valentinian III, as soon as she heard him preach the first time gave him the nickname that has lasted 1600 years: Chrysologos, which means literally “golden worded,” something that describes not only his eloquence but the way he treasured the word of God and sought to pass out golden nuggets of that word of God to enrich spiritually all the listeners entrusted to him. His pastoral work wouldn’t have been easy even if he weren’t so young and relatively inexperienced, but he courageously worked to convert the pagans who still remained and to fight against heresies against Jesus’ being fully God and fully man, with both a divine nature and a human nature in one divine person, work that brought him opposition. He sought to enrich everyone with the golden word that had changed his life forever and help them to value it as much as he did — and did this all the way until his death, at the age of 44, in 450. His life teaches us a very important lesson, that choosing the treasure of the kingdom is not a one-time thing but a continual way of life. While all of us can remember special graces in which we chose to put God first — when he in conscience or in prayer realized that God was calling us to much more than we had given him before, when we discovered our vocation to be a saint or to follow him along a particular path of sanctity — God doesn’t have us abide in past choices. He constantly gives us the chance in life to choose him as our treasure, to value him more than we value the good things of life, to esteem him even more than we value our own life. And he wants to help us persevere in choosing the treasure of the kingdom and not give in to the temptation to trade it for something fleeting and far less valuable.
  • We have two last images to ponder as we finish this section on the parables of the kingdom. First, at the end of the Gospel, when Jesus asks, “Do you understand all these things?,” and the disciples answer — with doubtless presumption — “Yes!,” he replied, ” “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Jesus is essentially saying that in our “understanding” of the parables there’s always going to be the “new and the old.” We’re never going to exhaust the store room. There’s no simple, limited explanation of them that will become stale after we grasp it, but more and more applications, greater depth. That’s the way it is with the faith in general. Over the course of these eight days, we have recalled past graces of understanding as we’ve heard these parables anew, but we have grown in ways, too.
  • And that enriching of old experiences with new is also pointed to by the powerful imagery in the first reading, as Moses built a tent for the Lord’s presence and the ark of the Covenant. The Lord would come down as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night: in day light God featured the fact that he was mysterious, nebulous; at night he featured that he was still the unconsumed burning bush, a vertical column coming down from heaven of light and love. Both are important images that pertain not only to the parables but to all of God’s self-revelation. God is always mysterious, but we do know something of the fire of his love and light even in the midst of darkness. But then we see that when God was within the tent, the Israelites stayed put, and when the cloud arose that’s when they began to move. There was an interplay between staying put — being still and knowing their God — and movement, getting up and following God, knowing that God was with them in both. It was a cycle of resting where they are (with what they are already familiar) and moving as God would accompany them (the new), but in both, God wanted to be with him in his nebulous, fiery, holy presence.
  • Today as we come forward to Mass, we thank God for having caught us in the net of the Church and having allowed us to find in him our true hidden treasure, our most precious pearl, so much more valuable than everything else. We thank him for the “old” he has already revealed to us that has brought us here as well as for the “new” with which he never ceases to enrich us, that we have not merely found treasure once, but often, and the pearl we’ve obtained continues to grow and become even more precious. We thank him for being here with us and letting the cloud of his holiness not just hover over us but within us, and we thank him for lifting up that cloud afterward and with fire leading us out to set the world ablaze. The Lord’s dwelling place is indeed lovely and he has chosen us to be that dwelling place as he sends us out as mustard seeds and leaven to make the whole world he created more lovely by transforming it into his kingdom where the King reigns.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Ex 40:16-21, 34-38

Moses did exactly as the LORD had commanded him.
On the first day of the first month of the second year
the Dwelling was erected.
It was Moses who erected the Dwelling.
He placed its pedestals, set up its boards, put in its bars,
and set up its columns.
He spread the tent over the Dwelling
and put the covering on top of the tent,
as the LORD had commanded him.
He took the commandments and put them in the ark;
he placed poles alongside the ark and set the propitiatory upon it.
He brought the ark into the Dwelling and hung the curtain veil,
thus screening off the ark of the commandments,
as the LORD had commanded him.
Then the cloud covered the meeting tent,
and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling.
Moses could not enter the meeting tent,
because the cloud settled down upon it
and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling.
Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling,
the children of Israel would set out on their journey.
But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward;
only when it lifted did they go forward.
In the daytime the cloud of the LORD was seen over the Dwelling;
whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud
by the whole house of Israel
in all the stages of their journey.

Responsorial Psalm PS 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11

R. (2) How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young–
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
They go from strength to strength.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!
I had rather one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
R. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!

Alleluia See Acts 16:14b

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 13:44-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.”
Jesus said to the disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea,
which collects fish of every kind.
When it is full they haul it ashore
and sit down to put what is good into buckets.
What is bad they throw away.
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,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
“Do you understand all these things?”
They answered, “Yes.”
And he replied,
“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom
both the new and the old.”
When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.
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