HOMILY for 17th Sun per annum (A)
God marvels that Solomon, although he was “but a little child” (1 Kgs 3:7), did not ask for riches, or the other kinds of things that young men are wont to ask for. But I was a rather typical youth! For when I was a child my annual birthday wish until I stopped believing in birthday wishes was that I would become the richest man in the history of the world. It was a childish wish, but perhaps the kind that is still common today, and not just among the young.
But as St Paul says: “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28), and so, God granted my juvenile prayer in the best way possible, that is, according to his wisdom, to bring about my greatest good. So, at the age of 16, I received baptism as a Catholic Christian. And then at the age of 28 I became a Dominican. On the day of my Solemn Profession in 2009, I recalled my childhood wish and I realized it had come true. Because, given who I am, there is no greater joy than loving and serving God in the consecrated life; no greater treasure than the Gospel of salvation – treasure both ever new and old (cf Mt 13:52) – which I am privileged to bring out and share with others through preaching; no riches better than the grace given to me at baptism and which makes every Christian a child of God, “conformed in the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28). All this sounds rather pious, but it isn’t thereby less true. When my parents and friends ask me if I am happy, I can honestly say I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, and I thank God for the grace of a Dominican vocation. And my friends often remark on how rare a joy it is in this life to have a ‘job’ you enjoy, which I evidently do. So, I am grateful for the joy I have found in having been consecrated to Jesus Christ as a Christian, a Dominican brother, and a priest.
A few months before I entered the Order, people tried to warn me of the many sacrifices I’d have to make, and what a deprivation religious life was. In some sense this is true. There are things we give up, and many people focus on these, especially the giving up of the goods of marriage and family life, material wealth, and self-determination. Initially, I’d focussed on these losses too. And then, I saw the riches I’d gained.
Hence in these parables of the treasure and the pearl the focus isn’t on what the treasure-hunter or the merchant had to sacrifice. What is emphasized is the worth of the Kingdom, that is, the supreme good that comes from knowing and loving Jesus Christ. Once we recognize the riches that Jesus brings we would give up all we owned – everything – to possess him. Or rather we do not possess Christ – it is he who embraces and possesses us with his love but first we have to let go of all the other things we cling on to so that we can hold to him. The key phrase in the Gospel which motivates this letting go of all else is this: “in his joy” (Mt 13:44). For without joy, the man would not have been motivated to sell all for the field and its treasure. So, too, without joy it’s hard to be a Christian, or a poor, chaste and obedient religious, a celibate priest. Without joy, the Christian life becomes drudgery, an obligation, and not worth living or, indeed, dying for.
At this time, this truth becomes ever more apparent. For ours is a time when more Christians are being persecuted and killed for their Faith in Christ than ever before. While I had willingly dispossessed myself of goods, last weekend the Christians of Mosul were forcibly stripped of all they had, and many have lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice. And what motivates someone to offer their lives in Christian martyrdom if not the joy that comes from having been possessed by Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life?
Thus Pope Francis has said, “those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). This joy comes from being held in God’s love, through a daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ who is our treasure and our pearl of great price. For him, we would joyfully give up all without counting the cost.
The example of the martyrs inspires all Christians to seek this radical joy, and so, too, does the authentic witness of a consecrated life. For as Pope Francis said: “This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy!” Hence the Holy Father followed his letter on the Joy of the Gospel by calling for a Year for Consecrated Life from October 2014. So, today’s Gospel invites all peoples to find anew the joy of loving and serving Christ, but, in particular, perhaps he is calling some of you to the consecrated life, and so to especially enact through your vocation stories the Gospel parables we hear today. Is God calling you, too, to riches beyond your childhood wishes?
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