Sunday, July 27, 2014

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time--Seek, Sacrifice, Possess

Parable of the Hidden Treasure by Rembrandt
Once again, the Gospel today tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  Although there is much that we could draw upon from today's Gospel, let's just focus upon three aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Firstly, the Kingdom of Heaven is for those who seek.  "Seek first the Kingdom of God," Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel.  And he promises that the one who seeks, finds.  In the parable of the man who finds the buried treasure, we see that it was discovered in a field.  The man was out and about.  He was engaged with life.  The same for the merchant.  He was searching for pearls.  The Kingdom of Heaven is there for our finding.  But, the Gospel teaches us that we must be people who seek.  Too often, we become lazy in our life. We fail to ask important questions.  We settle for the mundane.  Instead, we ought live life expecting to find the treasure!  What is the meaning of life?  Why am I here?  How did I come to exist?  What happens after I die?  What is the meaning of the reality that is in front of me day to day?  My brother once told me that for a while in the morning time as his sons were getting ready for school, he would play the soundtrack from the "Lord of the Rings," in order to remind his sons that each day was a new adventure.  

It takes effort to seek the treasure.  It takes work to wake up each day filled with a desire and an expectation to see the Kingdom.  But those who seek will find.

We seek in order to possess.  When we discover something that is true, good, and beautiful, we want to possess it.  This is how we are made.  I think of times when friends of mine will say with such joy, "So, I met this girl!"  From that point on, the conversation is often about, "How do I get her to go out with me?  What should I say?  What should I do?"  Yes, we seek in order to possess!  But when it comes to the Kingdom, there is an intermediary step.  If the first step is to seek, the second is to sacrifice.

The man who discovered the treasure did not immediately possess it.  See, the land in which the treasure was buried belonged to someone else, and thus the treasure legally belonged to that person.  So, the man is kind of sneaky.  He goes and sells everything and buys the field and becomes the owner also of the treasure.  Similarly, the man who discovers the pearl, goes and sells everything in order to buy the pearl.  The Christian life always demands that we love the treasure in such a way that we sacrifice for it.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us that we cannot be his disciples unless we take up our cross and follow him.  He tells the Rich Young Man to sell everything and give away the money.  Only then can the Rich Young Man follow Christ.  Peter and Andrew, James and John had to sacrifice boats and nets, family and home in order to be disciples.  All of us in our varied vocations are called to sacrifice for the Kingdom.  A couple entering marriage begins their marriage by offering a sacrifice.  They lay down their individual plans and aspirations for the sake of their new life together.  I often hear men when asked about a priestly vocation say, "I don't want to give up marriage."  This is not a good reason!  If one is called by God to be a priest, then one must be willing to sacrifice.  Every Christian vocation demands sacrifice.  This is a necessary step in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are always afraid that if we sacrifice certain things, we will never be happy.  Pope Benedict XVI often said that we should not be afraid because Jesus takes away nothing that pertains to our happiness and gives us everything.  The more we focus on the treasure, the more we are willing to sacrifice.

Once we seek the Kingdom and find it, and then sacrifice for it, we possess it.  This plays out each time we attend Mass.  You are here today seeking God.  But, before we can possess Him, we must offer sacrifice.  We offer now the Sacrifice of the Mass.  In union with Christ, we offer to God our obedience.  To the best of our ability, we say, "Lord, I love you and although I fail many times, I want to give you my life.  I want to offer you everything in union with your Son."  And then, having sought the Lord, and offered this Sacrifice in union with Christ, we possess Him whom all the world cannot contain.  God gives us His very self in the Eucharist.  We receive and possess God.  This is truly amazing.

There is no greater example of all of this than the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She sought to love and honor God and desired to do His Will.  Thus, when the announcement of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven was first made to her by the Angel Gabriel, how did she respond?  She offered a sacrifice.  She offered her entire being to the service of the Kingdom.  She sacrificed her reputation, her body, her plans, and her entire existence to be of service to the Kingdom.  And having sought the Lord and sacrificed for His sake, the Kingdom of Heaven came to dwell within her womb.  Mary sacrificed everything and in exchange, she possessed God.

This is what God wants for each of us.  And this is not just a one time event.  No, today we seek the Kingdom of God and, because He promises that those who seek will find, we indeed discover the great treasure.  Then, we offer ourselves and all that God asks of us in service to this Kingdom.  Then, we come to possess God Himself.  This possession is not stagnant.  Instead, it flourishes in our souls and produces a hundredfold!  Then, we go to sleep tonight, wake up tomorrow, cue the "Lord of the Rings" music, set out to discover the Kingdom anew, offer more sacrifices, and possess God even more.  This is to live the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

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