17th Sunday: True Riches

During my first year of college, my roommate in McCready hall was a guy named Josh who was also from Steubenville. We were high school classmates, but I didn't know a whole lot about him - except for the fact that he was serious about his Catholic faith.

We became good friends throughout the rest of our time at Mount Union and remain friends to this day. I see God's hand in us living together because Josh's example really pushed me to understand and live my Catholic faith more deeply.

Something that Josh said in those college days came back to me as I looked at these readings to prepare a homily. He compared the Catholic faith to a precious jewel that was given to him by his parents when he was too young to really understand what it was worth. Later on, as he grew in his faith and his relationship with God, he sort of rediscovered this treasure that had always been with him.

I love that image. It rings true in my life and I think many "cradle Catholics" - those of us who inherited the faith from our parents - can identify with it. Even those of us who are converts might be able to see how they discovered this hidden treasure that, without them knowing it, was there all the time, just waiting to be found.

In our first reading, we heard how the Lord gave King Solomon, David's son, the opportunity to ask Him for anything. Solomon could have asked for a long life, or wealth, or for the death of his enemies; but instead, he asked for an understanding heart.

That is a truly wise request. When all his riches and his life have gone away, Solomon's wisdom will remain. He will know what is right and what is wrong. He will know what really matters.

That is the same kind of wisdom that Jesus talks about in the parables we have heard today.

We're coming to the end of this whole series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. We've heard the parable of the sower and the different kinds of soil; we've heard about the weeds growing up among the wheat; the parable of the mustard seed; and the parable about yeast.

All of these images that Jesus uses teach us about the kingdom that he is bringing into the world. It requires our cooperation to receive the word of God; it exists in the midst of the world and usually starts in small, seemingly insignificant ways; but it grows to welcome anyone who wishes to follow Christ.

Today, Jesus tells us about the significance of that kingdom by comparing it to a buried treasure and an extremely valuable pearl.

What do these two images mean?

Both the buried treasure and the precious pearl require searching to be found. In the same way, faith requires a response from us.

Whether you've grown up as a Catholic or only came into the Church as an adult, your faith is yours. None of us can rely on a faith that is simply cultural - something that came to us through our family - or a faith that is only superficial. For our faith to be real we must act on it.

There is an urgency in these parables. The people who find these treasures sell everything they have so that they can gain the treasure. They have an understanding, like Solomon, of what is most important, what is worth giving up everything else to gain.

The Catholic faith is a treasure; and that treasure is yours for the taking. Nothing can stop you except you.

How do we claim this treasure? It's not a complicated answer: pray everyday, receive the sacraments, and serve others as Jesus did - basic Catholic stuff. It is only difficult because we don't recognize the value of what God offers us. The treasure of the kingdom of heaven is worth more than anything else we could possibly desire.

Jesus' last parable, the story of the fishermen pulling in their net, is about the seriousness of our faith. There are lots of different fish in that net, but not all of them are chosen. As the gospel says, "what is bad they throw away."

Our time on earth is given to us to choose God. It is our only chance - to live for him or not.

Seek that treasure. It is here for you, today, like a diamond or a gold coin hidden in your pocket. Take it out and use it. Make a conscious decision and choose God.