Sunday, July 27, 2014

How Much Do You Treasure ‘The Treasure’?

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field ..."

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 27, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 13: 44-52.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2014]

How much do you treasure “The Treasure”?

Jesus says to us in today’s gospel, “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.”

Here, of course, we need to make a very important distinction.  The distinction is between the value of a treasure, and the value a particular person puts on that treasure.

Those are two very different things.

A treasure might be very valuable in and of itself—that is to say, it might be worth a great deal (objectively speaking)—however that treasure might not be worth very much to you on a personal level.  For example, if you had 2 $100 Red Sox tickets with you today and you said to me, “Fr. Ray, would you like to buy them?” I might say yes—IF this were the summer of 2013; since in the summer of 2013 Red Sox tickets, in my mind, were actually worth something.

But, as we all know, this is the summer of 2014, and this summer, in my humble opinion at least, Red Sox tickets aren’t worth the value of the paper they’re printed on!

I say that with great sadness in my heart as a Red Sox fan.

Now some of you might disagree with my assessment of the value of Red Sox tickets in 2014, and that’s fine.  In fact, that kind of disagreement is to be expected, because, as I indicated a few moments ago, there can be (and very often is) a big difference between the objective value of a treasure, and the value that you and I, as individuals, put on that treasure.

And so it is with the kingdom of God.  In its fullness, the kingdom of God will be present only in heaven.  But, as Pope Benedict says in one of his books, the kingdom of God is already present to some extent whenever and wherever Jesus Christ is enthroned as Lord.  Or, to put it another way, the kingdom of God is present whenever and wherever Jesus Christ rules!

So, to the extent that Jesus is ruling our thoughts, words and actions—to the extent, in other words, that we place a high value on “The Treasure” that is Jesus Christ and his Gospel—to that extent the kingdom of God is already present “in us” (as Jesus himself indicated in Luke 17: 21).

But some people, sad to say, won’t like it when the kingdom manifests itself in this way!  And this is something we need to be prepared for.  If we really treasure “The Treasure” by taking our Catholic faith seriously and trying to live it, we will face opposition.

And sometimes the opposition will come from other Christians who should treasure “The Treasure” as much as we do—but who don’t!

This came home to me in a powerful way a couple of weeks ago when a woman I know sent me the following email about her recent experience at work.  Now before I read it to you let me say that this woman is one of the kindest people I know.  She is quiet and respectful and what most people would call “a very good person.”

But here’s what she said in her letter:

Fr. Ray,

I had my yearly evaluation at work this week. … At the end there is always a question where the supervisor has to identify a weakness that the employee will have to improve on before the next year’s evaluation.  Fair enough … we all have weaknesses.

[Well] I was blindsided by what my boss identified as my areas of weakness.  He told me that my “Catholic values and high morals” were my weaknesses.  He said many of my values are “opposed” with those of other employees.


[Her boss, by the way, is Catholic and active in his parish!]

I pressed the issue with him and ended up having three meetings with him and our Assistant Program Director to get these off the “weakness” category, because I wasn’t going to sign it with those listed as weaknesses.  Their points, to be honest, were really off the mark and I pointed out their errors to them.  However, they stuck to their opinions and disagreed with me.

They eventually conceded and took them off the weakness list, but it seems that I am going to be under observation and I should ”take care” not to proselytize (which I don’t do anyway.  Just being a Catholic these days is suspect, isn’t it?)

You know in Scripture how it says they will “drag you into court”?  Well, that is what it felt like.  I had to defend myself and my basic rights in the workplace.  I am not an “in your face Catholic” at work, and I am very accepting of everyone else at work—including their beliefs or lack of any beliefs at all.  However my beliefs, values and morals are routinely stepped on without me saying anything in response (most of the time—sometimes there is no choice but to respond).

At the end my boss said, “Well, it’s not that your Catholic values and high morals are necessarily bad things, it’s just that they are opposed to many of the values here. …”

I remember a time in any workplace when it used to be a good thing to have “high morals.”

For the record, I think this woman handled the situation very well.  There are definitely times when God calls us to turn the other cheek when we’ve been offended, but there are other times when his will for us does include some legitimate self-defense (we learn that from the example of Jesus himself in the gospels, as I mentioned in a homily I gave several months ago).

This, I would say, was one of those situations that called for the latter—for some legitimate, verbal self-defense—and I give this woman credit for doing it very respectfully.

I’m not sure that I would have been so nice.


And then I’d have to go to confession for losing my temper!

How much do you treasure “The Treasure”?

As much as this woman does?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to suffer an unjust evaluation at work like she did?  Or to lose out on a promotion at work that you rightly deserve?

Do you treasure it enough to stand up for what’s right in school when almost all of your classmates are voicing their support for what’s wrong?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to lose a few friends, or to endure some opposition from members of your own family?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to be called names (names that you don’t deserve to be called: “bigot”; “homophobe”; “narrow-minded”; “anti-woman”; “anti-American”)?

Hear, once again, the words of Jesus: “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.”

Before I close I think it’s important to note that there have been many Christians in recent decades who have lived this message of Jesus in its ULTIMATE SENSE!  They have “sold all that they’ve had” in the sense that they have literally given up their physical lives for the Lord and his Gospel.  You know, many people think that the majority of Christian martyrs died way back in the first century at the hands of Roman emperors like Nero.  But that’s not true!  The truth is that there were more martyrs for Jesus Christ in the 20th century than there were in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history COMBINED!!!

These martyrs treasured “The Treasure” with their whole heart—and they lived their lives accordingly.

May Almighty God help each and every one of us to do the same.