Jul 22, 2011

17th Sunday: Wisdom and choice


1 Kgs 3: 5, 7-12
Rom 8: 28-30
Mt 13: 44-52

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of a very influential order of priests we know today as the Jesuits, adopted a motto for his “company” of followers:  "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" - To the greater glory of God. It may sound simple but it is deeply life changing. Ignatius’ idea was that all we do, all we have, all that God asks of us is done to bring him glory. One needs to put a personal ego aside, along with ambition and pride, to attain a life so single focused.

For us who are not Jesuits such a motto is certainly not so much about them but should be the motto of every Christian person. All we do should be done in some way for the greater glory of God.

This Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Kings centers on the great Solomon, the son of King David, to whom God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” My first response to that might be, “Is this some sort of test?” Solomon surely could have asked God for glory, riches, a long reign as King. God waited for Solomon’s request and the request was indeed a humble one. Not one we would necessarily imagine a King asking: “Give your servant, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong . . .”

Solomon recognized his own inadequacy, “I am a mere youth, not knowing how to act . . .” God’s response to Solomon was impressive for he was “pleased.” In this case, King Solomon was indeed requesting a type of life that would bring glory to God. A heart of wisdom and understanding is what we priests may call good pastoral practice.

The Gospel parables are a further reflection from Jesus on the Kingdom of God. They are essentially about wisdom and choice. Jesus continues his agricultural and domestic analogies this Sunday with further parables: a treasure buried in a field, a valuable pearl in the market place, and a net thrown into the sea.

One indication of wisdom are the choices we make. Choices about what to eat, whether to exercise regularly, what sort of spiritual life I will develop, how to use money and resources, who to marry, how to raise children, or what other vocation I feel called to. The treasure buried in the field and the pearl of great price invite us to choose wisely. To choose treasures that are offered to us. To choose in a way that will bring glory to God by following his will for us.

Notice Jesus states, as he did in all his earlier parables, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” So, today it is “like” a buried treasure or a costly pearl which by comparison to other riches and possessions are so valuable that the individual sells, “all that he has and buys it.” In essence these two figures made themselves poor in order to possess the kingdom of God. I think Jesus is getting at something deeper here, as he always does.

We are not called to choose poverty for poverty sake. Nor is he suggesting that we live in abject conditions by selling everything we have. The choices we make should always be for something better, more valuable, for selfless reasons. To choose the way Jesus shows us is to choose his plan for life, his “kingdom.”

The choice, as always in our life of faith, is to choose God foremost above all things. No matter how much money we have, or what kind of car we drive, or what sort of home or neighborhood I live in, it doesn’t matter more than my pursuit of the kingdom (the way of the Gospel). If things, pleasure, position, power, political advantage, recognition by others, etc is what my life is about, then the way of faith will never have the force that Jesus’ offers.

In that case, my Catholic faith may become nothing more than being seen at Mass on Sunday, or sending children to Catholic school to show that I can afford such education, or I appear religious because it makes me more acceptable to others. Or I as a priest seek to be popular and focus my service around those who can make me so.

We choose God’s kingdom because it is greater than anything else. The believer must put God first in all things, even if it means I look foolish by doing so or I may appear “out of it.” This is what these parables imply.

But, what about my car, my house, my investments, my nice vacations, my children’s finer education, my good job that pays me well? The more I have, the more I am responsible to be generous. To choose life and the person over things is wisdom and glory. Our sharing in the Eucharist is an encounter with a God who has poured out himself for us – out of infinite love. A God who is generous for our sake.

“Once we choose faith we cannot turn our backs on the One we trust or the truth he reveals. The faith choice cannot be made in a haphazard manner. The faith choice must be fed with God’s Word in Scripture and the wisdom of the Church, in prayer, and in works of charity. For without a well-nourished faith, we slip away from God.” (Catholic Catechism 162).