Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. One day he finds a pearl of great price. Overwhelmed by his good fortune, he sells everything he has and buys it.*
This Sunday I would like to tell you about a man who made such a discovery. When I was in Peru, I had a long conversation with an old friend – a European priest who came to Peru in the early seventies. Unlike the rest of us, he became a Peruvian citizen and diocesan priest. A gifted preacher, his homilies attracted many people and were broadcast on the radio. He also had a gift for administration and became the bishop’s right hand man in organizing the pastoral and charitable work of the diocese.
In recent years, his earthly fortunes have declined. His health, never great, suffered a severe blow when thieves attacked the parish, killing the sacristan and his wife. Robbing the rectory, they also threatened “Padre Giovanni” with burning him alive. Besides stealing everything of value, they destroyed a collection of medicinal herbs which he had spent twenty years classifying. The thieves evidently had motives beyond simple robbery. Perhaps they were sent by someone who had a grudge against the priest.
To make matter worse, the administration of the diocese changed a few years back and Fr. Giovanni received little support in his trouble. He found himself an outsider in the diocese he had worked so hard to build up.
After listening to his story, I asked him why he did not simply go back to Europe. He replied that his home country has nothing to offer him. His nephews and nieces know they have an uncle who is a priest somewhere in South America, but it means nothing to them. His life is among the people of Peru. At that point, he looked at me with an intensity I will never forget, “You know, Felipe,” he said, “my faith in Jesus’ presence in the Church has never been greater.”
Fr. Giovanni had found the pearl of great price. Like him, others have made that discovery in two stages. The first is the joyful commitment of youth – when a young man commits himself unconditionally to his wife or accepts sacred orders. But there comes a later stage when it become clear that the choice is not ours, that Jesus is the one in charge and that he does the selling for us. It has to happen. We cannot make that total surrender on our own power.**
It is scary – to face martyrdom, to become an outsider, lose control of ones physical or emotional health. I pray that you and I might have that same faith as Fr. Giovanni: to face trials and still be able to say, “My faith in Jesus present in the Church has never been greater.” Jesus was serious when he said we must sell everything in order to purchase the pearl of great price.
*One way of imagining this: Ask yourself what you would do if you stumbled across a manuscript of St. Paul's lost letter (cf. I Cor 5:9). I don't know about you but I would sell everything I have in order to purchase it. Of course in my case that would not be much money, but even if I had Bill Gate's fortune, I would liquidate it in order to obtain that precious manuscript. Not only for scholars, but for ordinary Christians, that lost letter would have incalculable worth. But even more would be the sheer joy of such a discovery. Jesus emphasizes the exuberance with which the man sells everything.
**An example from literature might help illustrate this. Those who have read The Lord of the Rings (or seen the movie) remember how Frodo accepted the mission of taking the one ring to only place it could be destroyed. As he got closer to the Mount Doom, the ring became heavier and Frodo became more attached to it. In the end he could not throw the ring into the fire. It had to be wrenched from his finger. In a similar way, Jesus uses the circumstances of our lives so that we might make the final surrender to him. We cannot do it on our own power.
From Archives (for Seventeenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Pictures from Peru (July 2005)
The First Three Months of Benedict XVI: New Pope, New Style
An Aesthetic Argument Against "Same Sex Marriage"
Fatherhood Forever (Addressing the effects of abortion on men)
Message from Fr. Frank Pavone on the Nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court
From Dom: Who is Behind Voice of the Faithful?
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru