Friday, July 18, 2008
“Jesus said, ‘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 he has and buys that field.’” (Matthew 13:44)
“SOUL-SURFING” – July 27, 2008
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Almost a year ago now, the Associated Press reported the amazing story of an elderly woman in Zurich, Switzerland who became virtually invisible to the most sophisticated surveillance equipment:
“An 85-year-old woman was found in the vault of a Swiss bank when she set off motion detectors hours after the bank was already closed. Employees at the [bank] apparently forgot about the woman. The director of the bank's safe allowed the woman into the vault on Monday before closing it punctually at 4:30 PM with the woman still deep in study of her documents. She remained so still that she initially failed to activate either the motion detector or the attached camera. She was freed from the room four hours after the vault was closed.” (Associated Press, August 9, 2006)
Entombed with a treasure, that’s what she was! And while no harm came to the woman, the story of her imprisonment within a bank vault full of loot does cause us to reflect on our relationship to our own material treasure, whatever it may be. While few of us possess the wealth of a Swiss bank vault, we all have personal treasures that we hold fast to our hearts. And while there’s surely nothing wrong with that, we do risk finding ourselves in the same position as that 85 year-old Swiss woman, locked away with our treasure in a suffocating vault. Indeed, treasured possessions are dangerous things; they have the potential to kill us.
It seems to me that the particular challenge for us middle-class Americans is to possess without being possessed. We live and work in a culture ever more reliant on “things” that enable us to move from day to day, from here to there, from one task to another. Realistically, one cannot live without those hordes of “things” that in a former day were thought superfluous but today are simply essential. We possess lots of stuff. God save us, though, from being possessed, held prisoner by all those “things” that make life work. God save us from being entombed by our treasures!
In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus invites us to dig for treasure, to look beyond those many “things” that make life comfortable, to discover our truest treasure. “Jesus said, ‘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 he has and buys that field.’” (Matthew 13:44) Now, while heaven is something to which we can only now aspire, so it is with the recognition of true treasure. Because we are frail mortals, our vision is imperfect, and what may seem a treasure is really just glittering bauble. True treasure, as Jesus reminds us, is often right at our feet, buried under the ordinariness of our daily lives. Yet we continue to look far and wide for that which is so very near!
I recall trying to teach this very lesson to high school freshmen when, over thirty years ago, I engaged my students in a classroom discussion of a poem by Stephen Crane. Entitled “A Man Saw a Ball of Gold,” the poet aims at the same conclusion as does Jesus in today’s gospel passage:
“A man saw a ball of gold in the sky; // He climbed for it, // And eventually he achieved it -- // It was clay.
“Now this is the strange part: // When the man went to the earth // And looked again, // Lo, there was the ball of gold. // Now this is the strange part: // It was a ball of gold. // Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.” (Stephen Crane, 1871-1900)
While I don’t know if those long-ago freshmen could appreciate the lesson the poem offered, Stephen Crane bidding them look for treasure already unknowingly possessed, I pray my former students, now middle-aged adults, find the message in today’s gospel passage. And if even that should escape them, perhaps a story recently reported by the Catholic News Service caught their eye, redirecting their vision toward life’s illusive true treasures:
“An unsolicited comment from a high school girl kept one of the most popular [contemporary] hymns, ‘I Am the Bread of Life,’ from meeting an untimely fate. Mercy Sister Suzanne Toolan, who composed the song, said she had been asked to write a song for an event in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and was writing on deadline. At the Catholic girls' high school in California where she was teaching in 1966, Sister Suzanne used an unoccupied room next to the school infirmary to finish what became ‘I Am the Bread of Life.’ ‘I worked on it, and I tore it up. I thought, “This will not do.” And this little girl came out of the infirmary and said, “What was that? That was beautiful!” I went right back and Scotch-taped it up.’ The rest, as they say, is history.” (Catholic News Service)
Indeed, what has become part of the treasury of contemporary Catholic liturgical music was once consigned to the trash bin by its composer. But for the keen vision of a teenage girl resting in the school infirmary, a hymn now sung in Christian churches of all denominations around the world would have been disposed of as worthless.
This day Jesus bids us look deep into the ordinariness of our lives for the truest treasure. He invites our vision toward the very dust beneath our feet, where, with some kicking and scraping, we might discover what’s been there all along – faith: anchor for our earthly life and the promise of heavenly life in a day to come.
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