The Pearl and Treasure of Crucified Union with Christ, 17th Wednesday (II), July 30, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
July 30, 2014
Jer 15:10.16-21, Ps 59, Mt 13:44-46

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We ponder anew today what the Lord preached to us on Sunday, the parables 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. 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 Newport (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.
  • This is something that the saint we celebrate today grasped. 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. But no matter what he suffered, he continued to labor in the vineyard Christ had entrusted to him 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 so we have to 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.
  • This is the conflict we see in today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. As we saw last week, he had chosen to give his life to the Lord who had consecrated him from the womb as a prophet to the nations. He had chosen to put God first in his life and place his entire existence at the Lord’s service. But in today’s reading, he began to vacillate because of the opposition and sufferings that he was encountering in that work. Jeremiah complained that even though “when I found your words, I devoured them” and “they became the joy and happiness of my heart,” even though “I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts,” even though “I did not sit partying in the circle of merry-makers” but “sat alone” because he shared God’s holy indignation at the sins of those in Judah and Jerusalem, he was experiencing not joy but anguish. He lamented that he was alive: “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!” He said he was being treated worse than the usurious money-lenders who were generally considered the biggest scumbags of all: “I neither borrow nor lend, yet all curse me!” He said that he had become a “man of strife and contention to all the land” and that, rather than getting better, it seemed to be getting worse. “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?,” he asked. God was supposed to be a font of living water, not a broken cistern, as we examined last week, but that living water had become for Jeremiah a “treacherous brook whose waters do not abide.” The living water not only didn’t give him peace but brought danger. Rather than finding a treasure by giving himself to God, he seemed to be finding only tribulation, a tribulation that was leading him to wonder if he had been seduced, deceived, and betrayed by God.
  • God answered him, calling him to conversion, and promising not to take his problems away but to strengthen him to confront those problems. “If you repent so that I restore you,” God said, “you shall stand in my presence.” Jeremiah had been sent to call people to the conversion required to live in God’s kingdom, but he himself now needed to convert. Rather than lifting the people up to God, God communicated, the people and their opposition were dragging him down. “If you bring or the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece,” God said, indicating that he had been mixing the message with worldly speech. “Then it shall be they who turn to you and you shall not turn to them.” With regard to the opposition, God promised, “I will make you toward this people a solid wall of brass. Though they fight against you, they shall not prevail.” He wouldn’t be frail glass to their attacks but a thick, impenetrable wall of the firmest brass. And the reason why he would be strong would be because the Lord would be with him. “For I am with you, to deliver and rescue you. I will free you from the hand of the wicked and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.” God was not promising to remove the opposition — the very verbs “deliver,” “rescue” and “liberate” point to the fact that he would have hardship — but that the Lord would be saving him by his presence in the very suffering of opposition. As we’ll continue to see over the next week, Jeremiah will continue to battle these temptations against perseverance, in which he will be faced with the choice of choosing God with the attendant sufferings that that will mean, or abandoning God for a supposedly easier life. He would be continuously faced with the choice of the Rich Young Man. But he would eventually reaffirm the choice of God and each temptation would be an occasion for him to grow in resolve.
  • The lesson for us ought to be clear. We, too, need to persevere in joyfully, eagerly and wisely making the choice for the buried treasure and the pearl of great price. We also need to recognize that that kingdom is a life with God and that that joy flows from being with God. Jesus would say elsewhere, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent are taking it by force” (Mt 11:12), an indication that seizing the buried treasure and buying the precious pearl aren’t placid transactions. Not only is there a cost in sacrificing both good and bad things for the sake of the most important of all, but God likewise will provide many opportunities for us to persevere in choosing the kingdom. When Jesus called the first apostles to follow him as the treasure and pearl, he was calling them to follow him along the way of the Cross, a way that would lead even to his own crucifixion. Even though at times they asked questions, even though at times out of fear and weakness they valued some earthly comforts and betrayed Jesus, 11 of the 12 ultimately persevered in seeking first the Kingdom, even to the point of death, and now share an eternal inheritance. Likewise the martyrs and so many saints show us that the life of the kingdom is not inconsistent with suffering. But the point is that even in suffering and in death the Lord is present to “deliver,” “rescue” and “liberate” us by his saving presence — and it’s because of those sufferings that we can appreciate ever more the value of the choice for the kingdom. Even if we should have to suffer martyrdom, it’s still worth it! Even if we should be calumniated, opposed, hated by all because of Christ, our reward will be great in the kingdom!
  • And so today we come to Mass to be given once more the choice for the kingdom. Like the poor peasant, we might be surprised by the directness of the offer as we’re going about our day. Or like the merchant, we might have been seeking this pearl for our whole life. But regardless, the offer of the kingdom is here. That pearl, that treasure, is Jesus himself. At every Mass the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that this sacrifice yours and mine, may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” We bring to Mass our sacrifices, both what we’ve given up as well as what we are now giving of, and we unite it with Christ’s sacrifice as one holy, living and acceptable oblation to the Father, our logike latreia, the only worship that makes sense. St. Peter Chrysologus was one of the early promoters of daily Mass and even daily reception of Jesus in the Eucharist because he knew that when we choose Christ each day as our true pearl of great price, when we sacrifice whatever it takes to come to daily Mass, when we unite all our sacrifices to Christ’s, we then are ready to receive within ourselves the true treasure, the real pearl, Christ himself, who strengthens us from within to be able to persevere in living in and proclaiming the kingdom. Let us willing and eagerly sacrifice everything we have to in order to receive this greatest gift of all with the joy with which the peasant and merchant obtained their treasures!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JER 15:10, 16-21

Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth!
a man of strife and contention to all the land!
I neither borrow nor lend,
yet all curse me.
When I found your words, I devoured them;
they became my joy and the happiness of my heart,
Because I bore your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
I did not sit celebrating
in the circle of merrymakers;
Under the weight of your hand I sat alone
because you filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain continuous,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook,
whose waters do not abide!
Thus the LORD answered me:
If you repent, so that I restore you,
in my presence you shall stand;
If you bring forth the precious without the vile,
you shall be my mouthpiece.
Then it shall be they who turn to you,
and you shall not turn to them;
And I will make you toward this people
a solid wall of brass.
Though they fight against you,
they shall not prevail,
For I am with you,
to deliver and rescue you, says the LORD.
I will free you from the hand of the wicked,
and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 59:2-3, 4, 10-11, 17, 18

R. (17d) God is my refuge on the day of distress.
Rescue me from my enemies, O my God;
from my adversaries defend me.
Rescue me from evildoers;
from bloodthirsty men save me.
R. God is my refuge on the day of distress.
For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
mighty men come together against me,
Not for any offense or sin of mine, O LORD.
R. God is my refuge on the day of distress.
O my strength! for you I watch;
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
As for my God, may his mercy go before me;
may he show me the fall of my foes.
R. God is my refuge on the day of distress.
But I will sing of your strength
and revel at dawn in your mercy;
You have been my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of distress.
R. God is my refuge on the day of distress.
O my strength! your praise will I sing;
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
my merciful God!
R. God is my refuge on the day of distress.

Gospel
MT 13:44-46

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.”