Every night those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours say the canticle of Simeon during night prayer. For Clergy and Religious it is part and parcel with their (and one day our) vocation to pray the Divine Office; these same people are also privileged to celebrate or attend the Mass daily also as part of their vocation.
Imagine then how truthfully they can pray the Canticle of Simeon every night:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
Which You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people, Israel.
These people daily stare at God in all His glory, though disguised as food, they see the promise fulfilled of God's plan of salvation and His desire to always be with us.
What in each of our lives is worth any price? What do we truly value?
Solomon knew his answer.
Solomon was the king! Solomon had servants and money and power, but Israel was small and there could always be more money and power... Then, all of a sudden God Himself came to Solomon and told him he could have whatever his heart desired, anything at all.
What would we wish for if we were asked that question?
Our world is in a pretty sorry state, after all.
The economy just doesn’t seem to be recovering, some of us are out of work, and how many here are constantly worried about what the market will do tomorrow? Maybe financial security is what we need. It isn’t too lofty or abstract, but my word is it practical!
Or, perhaps we should ask for the healing of our culture. Every day we read in the paper about the latest effort by our leaders to distance us from our Christian heritage. Every day we read about some violence, afraid that we might one day be the victim. Surely God would be glad to restore some good old fashioned values!
Or, Maybe just health and wellness. I mean, nothing wrong with a long and healthy life! You can’t enjoy much if you are sick or dead.
Solomon was surely faced with the same temptations. There is nothing new under the sun, after all. Money has always been tight from time to time, there have always been corrupt or misguided politicians, and we have always feared death and weakness.
But Solomon, doesn’t go for any of that.
Perhaps enjoying God’s gift even before he asked for it, he thought about all God had done for him by making him king, and awestruck at that mission, Solomon saw clearly what he really needed, what he really wanted, what was really worth everything, and he asked for the wisdom to lead his people.
God would have likely rebuked Solomon had he asked for something as trivial as riches or political power or security from enemies or a long life, but instead God praised Solomon for recognizing that what is truly lasting and valuable is understanding of the truth, wisdom that can only come from God.
Jesus challenges us to make the same call, to recognize that to love him and to experience his love is a treasure that is worth anything, worth everything.
Conventional wisdom is to not put all your eggs in one basket, and that to invest everything on a “sure thing” is the choice of a particularly foolish gambler. We love our security. Risk is terrifying, especially whne we have worked so hard to get where we are. What if the merchant from the Gospel goes off to sell all he has, and in the mean time someone else buys the pearl? What if our effort and sacrifice are all for nothing?
What a sad way to think, but we all do it from time to time. What we have to remember is that Jesus isn’t like money, which we gain and lose; he isn’t political power, which waxes and wanes; He isn’t even a guarantee of physical wellbeing. Jesus is the word of God, he is the whole of what God has to say to humanity.
And what does Jesus have to say? Over and over he tells us “be not afraid.” He tells us to forgive one another. He tells us not to seek our security in what changes, but in God who never changes. That we worry too much about things that are insignificant in the light of eternity. He even tells us that Death itself cannot really harm us… and then he proved it.
God wants us to understand that while it is surely a risk in material terms to endanger worldly gain, what is gained by investing ourselves wholly in what is truly valuable, the Gospel, is not a gamble but a guarantee.
So, we should all shave our heads, sell all our stuff, and run off to a monastery. Not quite. Our worldly concerns do have a place, and there is nothing wrong with planning for the future or enjoying the fruits of your labor, but the inestimable value and importance of the truth God has given to us has to pervade everything else. Solomon was still a wealthy king in addition to his wisdom, but he knew which his real treasure was. We should learn from this example of a man who got his pearl of great price, and knew its value.
Remember the opening prayer of today’s Mass:
O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.
It is difficult, and surely counter-intuitive, to say these words and mean them. Right now, few if any of us are anywhere near having our priorities as straight as Solomon or today’s opening prayer. Even if we know that Jesus is our true treasure, it can be difficult to let go of fear and our tight grip on our security, but all we can do is keep trying and keep begging him for the wisdom to see what is truly worth everything.
Perhaps our first step could simply be to approach Jesus in the Eucharist today and ask him to let us understand how precious he is.
This is supposed to be a short daily homily (Monday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time, this year, which also happens to be Columbus Day):
We have all experienced the desire for a sign. It could be as slight as wistful desire for a clear affirmation of God’s presence, or as serious as a doubt of faith, or as trivial as a desire for a more “exciting” religious experience. We have no doubt heard friends and family lament that they “can’t feel God,” or feel like “the Church isn't feeding them.” Yet, even in our darker moments, it really is important to remember that God should not be confined to our expectations, or demanded to reveal himself on our terms, because what He has chosen to do and the signs through which He has chosen to reveal himself are beyond what we could have ever expected.
The people of Nineveh, who did not even know God, listened when Jonah (albeit reluctantly) brought a message of repentance to them, because it was the first ray of goodness and truth they had ever seen. The Queen of the South made a long and expensive journey simply to hear the wisdom God had given to King Solomon. These people rejoiced over the smallest taste of God’s goodness they were offered.
Our modern Nineveh is not full of pagans, but to a great degree, full of our fellow Christians! Today being Columbus Day we, as Catholics, are reminded not only of the discovery of our homeland, but that we, the Church, brought the light of Christ to a dark New World. In a small way, this secular holiday is one more reminder to the faithful that we have not been given only a small glimpse of God’s truth, but a fullness that is more than we can possibly appreciate!
How is it, then that we who literally share the life of our risen Lord are so often blind to what we have? Why do we continue to insist God reveal himself on our terms? When we have been claimed with the Cross, washed free of sin, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and fed with the body of Jesus Christ himself!? Why do we continue to seek any other sign? What other signs could there possibly be than what God has given to his Church? I know at times it is hard, I know at times we are discouraged and long for God to show himself, but at those times we must continue to wait in hope and love for Him to work.
We should also remember that even when our hearts are not burning or we are blind to it, God has given us the Sacraments as a guarantee we can encounter him.
There is something so much greater than we could imagine here, and he is always ready to share it with us.
One thing that I have at times reflected upon is that my vocation has always seemed somewhat vanilla as compared to some of my brothers. In general this does not bother me, but it has caused me at times to muse upon questions of my own identity. I am not the man who left a 6-figure income to serve the poor, I am not the great and prolific sinner who God converted dramatically, I am not even the school teacher or social worker who was called to more. I am just me.
I do not have a great deal of experience in business or administration, I am not a great counselor, I am not particularly holy and indeed struggle to learn to love God enough that I do not feel like a hypocrite. I have a few hobbies and interests, but in general the Church is who I am; she is all I have, and that is fine.
However, I do find the need to remind myself of this on occasion when I in a moment of self-doubt I wonder if I have anything of value to give. God has given me the grace of a generous heart, and through Him, I am blessed much of the time to be able to exercise the virtue of prompt generosity. I do what I can for the Church because the Church is all I have, really.
Now, I do have moments of sin and weakness and selfishness, belive you me. But, on the whole, God gives me the grace to be generous at the drop of a hat quite a lot of the time. Really the trick now is to do my part to maintain my relationship with God so I can let Him work through me, rather than give into the short-term “solution” of trying to do everything under my own power, which is ultimately unsatisfying as is leads to a disjunct between an outward demeanor of kindness and service but the flame in my heart barely sustaining coals.
Long term, my prayer is that the good work God has done in me by granting me a big heart might be brought to completion in me so that I might have a pastor’s heart, a heart that works to keep ever more perfect time with the Sacred Heart (a goal that can only be accomplished by imitating St John, who rested his ear against Christ’s chest at the Last Supper).
Humility is one of the hardest virtues to acquire, since one cannot actively seek it and hope to be successful. Rather, it comes as a fruit of the other virtues, both those acquirable by human effort and those infused by the grace of God. Humility is valuing yourself and your accomplishments aright, not pridefully feigning detachment from your own works nor inflating them beyond their worth, nor valuing what is not even worth praise in the first place!
Praise is addictive though. This last week I gave a gift to one of my dearest friends on the occasion of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood. I made, by hand, a purple stole for confessions. Further, I sent it via another friend to Rome, where it was laid on the tombs of St Peter and Bl. John Paul the Great, and blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. I was very excited to give Father this gift, which I had worked so long and hard to make, and I did so privately and without any fanfare at all in his office the day before his ordination. Father was very grateful, which made me happy too, and began to show the gift to many others and even put it on display along with the chalice he inherited from a priest who has since gone to his reward, and other tangible gifts he received, during a formal dinner after his Mass of Thanksgiving.
I very much appreciated that he enjoyed my gift. But, at some point I began to drink it up a little. I played coy, but I really reveled in his showing it to everyone. In fact, I eventually succumbed to the temptation and lingered nearby the display of his Ordination Gifts longer than needed to examine them, just in case someone might connect me to the gift of the purple stole. I caught myself and went back to my seat. Now, I was not in the full throws of a self-glorifying fit, and I did not really loudly broadcast my connection to the stole. But, I recognized that I was tending toward pride. For the rest of the evening, especially after Father thanked me publicly, I tried my best to graciously thank those who complimented me on it.
All in all, virtue is hard, humility most of all (especially when one’s talents are being given a moment to shine). I just need to remember that I am not the source of whatever talent I have, and that as Christians we should ultimately only boast in what Jesus Christ has done for us.
I am really looking forward to this Summer. I want to be in a place where I can feel like I am doing something. School is fine and all, but it wears one down after a while, especially without a good outlet. Even my hospital ministry this year has been routinely frustrating; now, the Holy Spirit send a pick-me-up my way on visits from time to time, but the sheer amount of unsatisfying or non-starter visits has been a burden. Only a few times did anyone ever want to discuss faith.
No, I am looking forward to some parochial work this Summer. I am not totally sure where yet (I have a strong idea, but I have not been told 100%), but I hope it is somewhere I can feel like I have a place. I recognize that, while I still have a long time to endure, three years is ultimately not all that long. There are many things I know I am not good at that I need to at least learn the basics of, and many more things that I need to strongly request to do which I have previously been too low key or timid to ask for. I want to have a role, I want to have a way to love God’s people, I want to have an opportunity to do some of the more life-giving things that give me the energy and zeal to push through the more mundane stuff.
I am a self-starter and a problem solver. I am usually so good at finding out what to do and how to do it, and I worry so much being a burden on others or in anyone’s way, that I don’t ask for help or input or advice. Heck, I have even found myself staying in my room so much at rectories simply so that I would not be in the way of the pastor who “really” lives there.
Even though I can do most things adequately without much effort, I need to invest in my activities, I need to revive the zeal I keep too constrained for fear I might run out before the finish line, I need to stop trying to do this all myself simply so that I won’t be a bother.
It is a fantasy to think that merely exposing us to MORE things will make us better priests in the long run. At some point there is going to be the first confession, first last-rites call, the first wounded marriage brought in for counseling, and so forth.
The rites can be learned, and should be practiced until we do not feel incompotent, and reasonable fears (eg we have only ever heard our own sins in confession, how do you respons to another's, especially as the confessor?) should be addressed.
Specific issues can be learned to be dealt with by our academic classes, be they technical topics such as law or moral theology or the discipline of pastoral theology that helps us put the doctrines and laws in context and express them so that they can be heard and understood.
However, the concrete moment is between you and God, and only the grace of the Holy Spirit and your experiential data can lead you to grow in this regard. Knowing what to say in the most dificult of situations is something for which education can prepare one, however, ultimately it cannot be taught, but can be learned.