(Homily for Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

I once asked a college philosophy professor which philosopher his students liked best. Was it Plato with his soaring imagination? Or Aristotle’s practical realism? Did they prefer the detached rationality of Descartes – or Nietzsche’s frenzied will to power? His reply surprised me. While the students appreciated aspects of all these philosophers, the one who most captivated them was a lonely Danish cleric called Soren Kierkegaard.

Perhaps because he lived under gloomy Scandinavian skies, he was one of the few modern philosophers not fooled by the color gray. He saw it for what it is – a mixture of black and white – and he knew that light can be separated from darkness. At some point each of us has to make a choice between one or the other. The decision is stark and, according to Kierkegaard, the most wrenching part of human existence.

To describe that struggle he wrote books with titles like Fear and Trembling and Sickness unto Death. In them he analyzes the angst (existential anxiety) which accompanies human freedom. We experience angst in a way no other animal does because, in our case, the stakes are incredibly high.* The one thing we cannot do is to avoid making a decision. Kierkegaard explains why in his book Either/Or. As we get older, the distinction of light and dark begins to blur (God help us) but young people sense more clearly that life is drama with enormous consequences. For that reason, Kierkegaard is often the favorite philosopher of college students.**

In today’s parables Jesus describes an Either/Or decision which each of us faces. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a buried treasure, a pearl of great price. To obtain it we must give up everything else:

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.

Now is the moment to decide. There is no time to whine about things being so extreme. I know some of you kick yourselves for not mortgaging your house and buying Microsoft stock when it was eighty cents a share. But this Sunday you have an offer that is infinitely better. I say infinite in the literal sense. Take what you have, what you are and bet it on Jesus. I know you hope to hedge your bet: "I want to follow Jesus, but my life would be empty without alcohol...that girl...my pornography." Your life already is empty, but sell those things now, and you will obtain something of real value. Do I need to say again the situation is extreme? There is no time to whittle down the cost. The price of the pearl is fixed: everything.

Last week I gave you the definition of hell. Please now listen to the definition of heaven. "Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness." (Catechism 1024) When we stand before him any other joy, or pleasure, or beauty, or goodness will seem pale as chalk. The joy which excels everything else is called the "Beatific Vision," seeing God face to face. (I Jn 3:2, I Cor 13:12, Rev 22:4) It is the pearl of great price. It is Jesus himself - in his fullness, the Communion of Saints. I urge you right now to invest all you have - and all you are - obtain such a prize.


*For a brief discussion of the differences between humans and other animals, see: Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea

**That is also the reason "fundamentalism" appeals to the young. Not that they want "simple answers." What they want, quite rightly, is drama.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Seventeenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Life in the Spirit Week 4
2011: Hidden Treasure
2008: All Things Work for Good
2005: The Pearl of Great Price
2002: Either/Or
1999: What is Heaven?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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