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The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 36:10)

      A question: What do you value in life? What is important to you? Really important? We sometimes say, ‘I’d give anything for that.’ What would that be for you? Is it something? Is it money? A lot of it, maybe? Is it a coveted position? Is it power? Prestige? Popularity? Or maybe it’s something less tangible, less tawdry – more gentle and enduring - like a partner in life, or maybe peace, or joy, or knowledge, or wisdom?

     When God appeared in a dream to King Solomon and gave him his choice of anything he might have, anything he might want, Solomon went for wisdom, for an understanding heart, for the ability to distinguish right from wrong so that he could govern his people fairly and with right judgment.

     But what about you? What about me? What is it that we most value in life? What have we set our hearts on? I realize that those may be questions we’d rather not deal or grapple with on a mid-summer’s Sunday when we’d probably like to kick back and relax a bit, but like it or not, they are the questions today’s scriptures put squarely before us. And we dodge them at our own peril.

     The characters in today’s gospel parables didn’t dodge them. Finding treasure in a field and coming across a pearl of great price was all they needed in order to know what was important to them, and they were willing to sell everything they had – let go of everything they thought important – in order to buy that field, to purchase that pearl.

     I can’t read those little parables without being reminded of a good friend of mine – known to many of you. His name is Cyrus Habib. In spite of becoming completely blind at the age of eight – he came to enjoy one success in life after another. A three-time cancer survivor, he graduated from Columbia University, became a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford before going to Yale Law School and becoming Catholic. While still a young lawyer, Cyrus was elected a State legislator, State senator, and then, Lieutenant Governor. The sky was the limit as far as higher public office was concerned. And then one day, he caught everyone – not least of all, his fellow elected officials – completely by surprise when he announced that he had decided to leave public life and enter the novitiate of the Society of Jesus.

      Now, I’m pretty sure God did not appear to Cyrus in a dream as he had to Solomon, but over time, in quiet, prayerful, painstaking discernment, he had come to hear the voice of God quite clearly, and he accepted the grace to respond. He was like the characters in today’s gospel who found buried treasure and a priceless pearl. Everything he had achieved in life up till then - and everything that still awaited him in life as an elected public servant – he was willing to ‘sell’ – to let go of – in order to possess a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price.

     His story, of course, is not our story. But, my friends, for each of us there is a decision to make, a defining decision, We must answer the question: what is important to me, truly important, important beyond all else, and what am I willing to give up in order to obtain it?

     Today’s two gospel parables might allow us to think that the answer could be something we can grasp or hold onto with our hands – like buried treasure or a valuable pearl – but not so. Those are only metaphors – vivid, tangible humanly appealing ways Jesus uses to describe God’s Kingdom. “The Kingdom of heaven,” he says, “is like treasure buried in a field…or like a merchant in search of fine pearls.” And he wants us to stop and ask ourselves: is God’s Kingdom, God’s reign in our world, important to me beyond all else? So important that I would let go of everything – my dreams, my hopes, my possessions, my security – in order to help that Kingdom come about? Big questions, but unavoidable questions for us who follow Christ and are doing our best to live his gospel.

     Tomorrow the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Now, there’s a saint who sold all he had in order to purchase an imperishable prize. As a wealthy young man – a soldier caught up in tales of romantic chivalry, Young Ignatius was something of a dandy, a dancer, and a womanizer. But God had his way with him. While recovering from a debilitating injury he suffered in battle, Ignatius asked for something to read and was given a Life of Christ and some lives of the saints. He really would have preferred something romantic and racy, but those religious books were all that were available. Well, out of that reading came spiritual awakening, conversion of heart, gradual discernment of a calling to turn his life completely over to Christ. From serving as a soldier in service of an earthly kingdom, Ignatius discerned a call to devote his considerable gifts to building the Kingdom of God.

     The kingdom of God. My friends in Christ, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer – and that’s very often! – we say the words, “Thy Kingdom come.” Those are more than words: they must be an expression of a desire deep in our hearts. They are a commitment, a solemn commitment on our part to make God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, our number-one priority in life: our treasure beyond all others, our pearl of great price!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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