Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 26, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-46

In the late 1960’s, Senator Charles Percy of Illinois traveled to India on government business. While there he was told of Mother Teresa and her work with the poor and dying in the streets of Calcutta. The Senator was a very optimistic man with an entrepreneurial spirit who believed that there was no such thing as an unsolvable problem for human ingenuity to resolve.  The stories of Mother Teresa, which had not yet been widely disseminated around the world, intrigued the Senator enough for him to make a special trip to visit her and to tour the home for the dying operated by her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. The Senator was not so much impressed as he was overwhelmed by the suffering, the stench, the futility of the lives of the poor whom he witnessed. He was overwhelmed to the point of silence until he finally could ask Mother Teresa, “Don’t you become discouraged at trying to combat the poverty and the suffering in the world?” The Saint of Calcutta honestly and simply responded, “God has not called me to be successful but to be faithful.”

Saint Teresa’s response, which we now know after her canonization, was probably made during spiritual dryness, very much conveys the image of one who has given everything to acquire the pearl of great price. The pearl of great price and the treasure that surpasses all others is the Gospel in all its fullness and its culmination for the Christian to be fully configured to Jesus Christ in love — even to the point of death.

We read about the great king Solomon, in our first reading from the first book of Kings.  We hear of how he prayed for a prudent and understanding mind to govern his people wisely and with justice. King Solomon at that time did not choose power and pleasure or the destruction of his enemies by God. Solomon instead asked God for wisdom. In the Old Testament, wisdom is the attribute most closely related to the Lord God. One seeking wisdom is truly seeking after nothing less than God Himself, the treasure buried in a field, the pearl of exquisite price. Yet, we know that Solomon was not able to follow through with such wisdom throughout his reign and that he remained prone to the same selfishness and sin because of the sin of the Garden of Eden. He was not able to follow through at this point because Solomon lived before Christ’s victory over sin and Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to those redeemed of sin. Even Solomon could not acquire of his own power the pearl of great price.

Solomon was known for his wisdom but even the wisdom of Solomon pales compared to the gift of wisdom by the Holy Spirit; it is the gift of wisdom that enables one to discern and choose the pearl of great price — total gift of self as Christ gave of Himself in love. The pearl of great price is purchased by the surrender of our freedom to do whatever we want to do in exchange for the gem of the authentic freedom to be loved by God and to love Him and our neighbor in return as Christ loves each of us.

The Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom assists the divinely infused virtue of prudence that enables baptized human beings to establish right priorities among many good options by the measurement of what is most Christlike and not simply what is most fulfilling or even correct — as natural wisdom does. The gift of wisdom and the virtue of prudence measures decisions against the ultimate end of selfless love of God and neighbor as exemplified by Jesus and known by us through the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom that enables us to see the pearl of great price, to choose the pearl of great price, and to treasure the pearl of great price to the point of even giving our lives for it: the truth proclaimed in unconditional love. This can be seen in the brave Christian witness of saints, the heroic act of martyrdom, or even more simply in the selfless love a husband and wife have for each other in the routine of marriage and family life.

We too have a choice in following the example of Christ and learning to “give all that we have” to follow Him, to “purchase the pearl.” All the things that Solomon did not choose to ask of the Lord are things that would have taken him away from God.  In a sense, they prefigure the first three beatitudes recounted in Matthew’s Gospel and which St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas understood to be spiritual stages in the development of the moral and spiritual life of the Christian.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” The first Beatitude begins with the humility to choose God over the riches and honors of this world. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The second Beatitude manifests the virtue of courage to endure suffering and grief instead of giving into anger and striking back against those who have hurt us and caused us grief. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” This third Beatitude reveals the virtue of temperance over the pleasures of the flesh driven by appetite.  King Solomon upon beginning his reign was humble enough to seek wisdom from God in place of revenge on his enemies or the riches and pleasures of hedonism. But he lived before Christ and so Solomon’s life points to the inadequacy of the human condition wounded by sin but not disposed to the gift of grace imparted by the Holy Spirit as sent to us by Christ at Pentecost. Solomon ended up settling for success instead of faithfulness. What about us who are blessed to have lived after Christ?

The final and Eighth Beatitude is the culmination of all of the Beatitudes and is truly the pearl of great price — a life fully configured to Christ in the integrity of the truth and the fullness of love in what is authentic holiness and faithful witness even to the point of physical martyrdom. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

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