Homily - 17th Sunday O.T.

Mt 13:44-46   1 Kgs 3:5,7-12    Rom 8:28-30

Focus: “For those who love God,” who make God the first priority of their lives, and who, thus, can find Christ in their neighbor, “all things work for good.”

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,  Thirty-five years ago, the British agnostic Malcolm Muggeridge followed  Mother Teresa on her rounds in Calcutta, to produce a book and documentary that would be known as Something Beautiful for God.  “Mother, please help me understand,” he one day pleaded with Mother Teresa.  “I watch you pick up dying beggars abandoned in the gutter, covered with vermin, their own waste, dirt, [and] blood.  You embrace them, tenderly lift them into your wagons, take them back to bathe them, bandage them, feed them, [and] place them in clean beds.  I am near nausea watching you.  But you and your sisters are happy!  You are smiling!  How do I get some of this joy?”

Mr. Muggeridge,” the now-saint replied.  “Just look at the word joy: J-O-Y.  These are your priorities if you want joy.  ‘J’ — Jesus; ‘O’ — others; ‘Y’ — last, yourself.”

The happiness, the joy, of Mother Teresa and of her Missionaries of Charity has its origin in their priorities, in what was and is important to them, in what captures their attention and fills their time, in what they love with all their hearts, their souls, their strength, and their whole being.

Today’s gospel also is about priorities in life and about joy.  In one parable, Jesus talks about a great treasure, which has been hidden in a field.  In antiquity there were no banks yet as there are today.  During uncertain times, during war, people frequently would bury their valuables in the ground in order to secure them.  Sometimes such treasures got forgotten over time.  A farm worker finds a treasure in a field.  He buries it again.  Then, in his joy about the find, he sells everything he owns to buy the field.  If he owns the field, he has the treasure as well.

Different from the man who stumbles across the treasure, the merchant in the second parable is searching for things of value.  This wealthy man, who has devoted his life to hunting for fine pearls, finds a very precious one and gives his all in order to acquire it.

Both stories together tell us something about the kingdom of heaven, about God’s grace present in our lives.  God’s grace can simply break into a person’s life, as an unexpected and even unintended find!  Nothing is impossible with God!   At the same time, it is true that we have to search for God as the merchant searched for fine pearls.  We have to contribute what we can in order to become ever more receptive to the grace of God. Nothing deserves greater priority. 

The great moment of grace as a gift for Sr. Teresa was during a train ride up to Darjeeling, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she went for a retreat.  On the train, she was graced with a deep experience of God’s light and God’s love.   And she heard Christ say to her, “I thirst.”

Sr. Teresa responded to the gift of grace and so became Mother Teresa.  Two years after the experience on the train, she left the convent of Loreto Sisters to which she belonged and began, with the permission of the pope and also of her local archbishop, to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta.  Her response consisted in serving Christ, as she put it, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”  His thirst was their thirst.  This was one new big priority for her.

On the other hand, there was her life of prayer.  This became an ever greater priority for her, too.  You may remember that journalist, who once said to her, “I wouldn’t do this work on the streets of Calcutta for a Mill $$.”  What was her response?  “I wouldn’t, either.”  Her prayer made it possible for her to sustain her service.  Her prayer made it possible for her to see the deeper reality in those whom she served, to “see and touch Christ’s body” in them.  She attended Mass every day.  She quietly communed with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on a regular basis.  She prayed the rosary regularly.  Very often, her prayer didn’t come with great emotional experiences.  Nevertheless, it was the necessary foundation or her work.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, ‘For those who love God,’ who make God the first priority of their lives, and who thus can find Christ in their neighbor, ‘all things work for good.’

Just the way the men in the parables gave up much in order to buy the treasure or the pearl, respectively, Mother Teresa gave up the comfort and the security of her previous life with the Sisters of Loreto in order to become free to pursue what has become important to her. We can ask ourselves:  What would we need to give up in our lives in order not to lose sight of the treasure, the precious pearl, in order to pursue and receive the kingdom more fully?

If we, using the word JOY as an acronym, organize our priorities in the right way:  Jesus—Others—last, Yourself, if we sometimes give away, even to the point, as Mother Teresa would put it, “that it hurts,” then Saint Teresa’s promise will come true also for us: We can experience the joy that filled her heart.

Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB