As we're in Vocations Awareness Week (3-10 August), here's a much longer post than usual - my homily from last Sunday week (XVII Ordinary Time), given at the CYA Mass on 27th July 2014, which included a little for vocational reflection (readings: 1Kgs 3:5,7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52):
That first reading is truly beautiful. Let’s break it open a little to appreciate its riches. It was about Solomon, David’s son, who had only just been newly crowned as King of Israel to succeed his father – something perhaps quite daunting – certainly a lofty vocation. And he described himself in his response to God as a “very young man” – so hopefully, as young men and women, you can relate somewhat to young Solomon. The young man was asked by God what He would like God to give him, and we heard that God was very pleased with the way he responded. Let’s see why.
First of all, let’s notice the generosity of God. Young Solomon, inexperienced, is called to a lofty vocation. And because God has called him, God wants to give him what he needs. We can’t do good without God’s help. If you were asked, “What would you like God to give you?”, how would you respond to our generous God? Perhaps you can think of some really stupid things you’ve asked for in the past – things that were either selfish or at the time seemed really important but, looking back, you see they were vain and unimportant.
How does Solomon respond? There’s nothing of greed here, nothing of riches or long life, or the lives of his enemies. Rather, he looks at the plan of God as his point of reference. He says, “Lord, you have made your servant King”. He looks at what God’s been doing, he looks at what God had already entrusted to him, and how God was acting in his life at that time, and put himself completely at the disposal of God’s plan, of God’s will. So he wasn’t seeking his own will here but God’s. And that’s how we must respond to God who wants to be generous to us as well. We must refer firstly to God’s plan as it is unfolding in our lives. Solomon has his eyes so firmly fixed on God’s plan that when he referred to himself, he didn’t say “me” but “Your servant”. He comprehends his very identity only in relationship to God and His plan. In the first place, he’s not for himself, he’s for God, he’s God’s servant.
And then: what does he ask for? He asked for an understanding heart – wisdom – he asked for the very thing he needed so that he could fulfil the calling God had given him, so he could fulfil his particular role in the kingdom and serve God’s people. Note again he referred to the people as “this people of Yours that You have chosen”: all in reference to God and His plan.
In the second reading, too, St Paul refers to God’s generosity in fulfilling His plan and call when he said, “God cooperates with all those...He has called according to His purpose. They are the ones He chose long ago and intended to become true images of His Son”. It’s God who calls, who justifies and who glorifies – and we all share this calling to become true images of His Son. So, like Solomon, we need to ask for what we need for our particular vocation and role in God’s Kingdom, as well as what will help us conform to the image of Christ.
And we need to really want it, to desire it! In the first reading, Solomon asked for wisdom – but it’s in the Book of Wisdom (attributed to Solomon) that you hear how much he desired it. Let your heart and your imagination be captivated by Solomon’s expressions here in the Word of the Lord. Speaking of wisdom he says, “I preferred her to sceptre and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her... because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because her splendour never yields to sleep... She is fairer that the sun... I sought to take her for my bride and was enamoured of her beauty”. I could go on and on quoting from the Book of Wisdom here, but I think you can see that Solomon had discovered a treasure and had a keen longing for that treasure.
Let’s go to today’s Gospel. Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a treasure in a field for which a man sells all that he has and buys the field. What comes into your mind when you hear that word “treasure”? (I hope something comes to mind, or Jesus’ use of imagery in these parables is being lost on you!) I’ll share with you what comes to my mind: What comes to my mind are all of the treasure adventure movies that I watched when I was a little younger – perhaps you’ve seen some of them: Indiana Jones, the Mummy, National Treasure – there are many others... What is common in such movies is that the protagonists value that treasure so much that they are willing to risk their very lives against bad weather, unconquerable terrain, booby-traps, almost impossible circumstances, they’re willing to fend off competitors, overcome opposition who seek their lives – all for the sake of obtaining that treasure.
So I ask you: is that your attitude towards the treasure of the Kingdom of God? Is that your attitude towards the true treasure of our hearts that has to be Jesus Himself? Do we long for Him and His Kingdom the way Solomon longed for wisdom? Do we bravely ward off the opposition of temptation, distraction and sin the way they braved the jungle in those movies? Jesus, the treasure we speak of, is the Treasure to whom all other treasures are like straw/sand.
So what are we going to do? The first thing that happened in today’s Gospel is that the man discovered the treasure. Another young man, St Francis of Assisi: you know he loved adventure and had wanted to be a knight, but in his conversion, as he redirected his reference point to God and God’s will, he began to enter into a cave to pray fervently – to come to know Jesus, and he prayed with all his heart that the eternal and true God guide his way and teach him to do His will. We read that “he was burning inwardly with a divine fire” and “he endured great suffering in his soul”, and “he was not able to rest until he accomplished in action what he had conceived in his heart”. He spoke with a dear friend about what he described as his “hidden treasure” and once responded that he “planned to take a bride more noble and more beautiful than you have ever seen, and she will surpass the rest in beauty and excel all others in wisdom” – speaking, of course, of the Gospel life he would embrace, and the treasure of the Kingdom of God. Let each one of us discover and yearn for this treasure in our own cave of prayer. And let us persevere in yearning for it through frequent contact. Last night, Pope France, in his Vigil Mass homily, said exactly what I recommended to you two weeks ago – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t quoting me – but if you didn’t do it two weeks ago, it’s now a papal mandate to you! He said and I quote: “Have the Gospel in your hands. Have the Gospel on the table. Have the Gospel in your bag. Have the Gospel in your pocket and open it to read the Word of Jesus, so the Kingdom of God comes. Contact with the Word of Jesus brings us closer to the Kingdom of God. Think about it: a small Gospel always at hand, open it to a random page, and read what Jesus says and Jesus is there.” (End of quote). It’s not your treasure unless you cling to it, and hold it close. Have a small book of the Gospel close and turn to it frequently to keep the fire alive.
And finally, we saw in the Gospel that having discovered the treasure, the man then acted, he acted dramatically, he went and sold all that he had and bought the field. He gave up everything for that treasure. The Christian life requires detachment. Appreciating the treasure, we have to have the courage to choose Jesus above all things, and reject all that is contrary to Him, and not dilly-dally between the Christ and the world. To choose Christ and refuse all competing forces – this giving Him our ‘all’ can affect our relationships, friends, our work, the way we live, how we use our free time... As one commentary that I read put it: If Christ is the meaning of life, and He poured every drop of blood for me on the cross, it is “sacrilegious” to give Him anything less than everything, and “we might not have much, but we each have an ‘all’, and that ‘all’ is what we must give”. And like St Francis – who stripped himself of all, who became truly rich when he had Christ, and then even adversities were for him blessings –like St Francis, and like that man in the field, let’s give our all to Christ, the true treasure of our hearts.