Now, I don’t think I’m all alone is saying that my heart has always been desiring two things: to belong to a great cause and to fall in love. And I have not sat idly by. When it comes to the one great cause in my life, permit me to first boast of my failures, for in searching for a cause I have been rejected by the best – or what I thought was the best at the time. Yet an honest failure can lead us one step closer to where we seek. So in college, I applied for an engineering internship with NASA. I even had a very nice letter of recommendation from Major Bosworth of the Air Force….didn’t make the cut. Failure 1. Then I made it into the Air Force and even into pilot training….but I flew about as well as an elephant with an itch…washed out. Failure 2. Probably the funniest story was my phone interview with the CIA. I’ll just say that they decided to pursue other options. Failure 3. So, my life is further evidence that priests don’t grow on trees and just as I sought out (and was passed on) by every organization I thought was exciting, in the same way, I sought out every girl that I found interesting – and was available –needing to see if she might be the “one.” My dating career started in sixth grade when I asked out my next door neighbor in art class – and she said yes in front of our table. And then looking at her watch about thirty seconds into our relationship she informed me in front of Katie Murray that she just didn’t think it was working out anymore. While I won’t count the failures here, eventually I did have a few serious relationships in high school and college. But I was interested in the girl + great cause picture and they never seemed to line up together. Then, as my Air Force dream was teetering, I began a pen pal relationship with Magdalena. She lived in Sopot on the Baltic coast of Poland. She was so mysterious. For about a year we exchanged emails, never having seen each other or heard the other’s voice. She lived 5,000 miles away. She often used words that I couldn’t translate into English. In the middle of it all, I went on a retreat and decided to join the seminary. I had finally found the truly great cause – that of the kingdom of God. God had seemed to be filling me with so enough love – without being anywhere near this girl or any other – that before I started classes, I decided to cross the Atlantic and meet Magdalena. The trip was so amazing and so lighthearted because I had given up any romantic designs — and therefore the entire country of Poland graduated from a romantic to a religious experience. It was the Kingdom of God. Poland was an example of the field I was selling everything to buy. Magdalena seemed a kind of pearl that I beheld once before giving all of it away. I joyfully gave her up with the trust that I could only buy this field by following the call to seminary and sowing the seed of the Kingdom of God wherever God sent me. The whole world is called to rejoice with the joy and splendor of sacrificial love.
The Gospels from today and over the last two weekends explain so much about the seed and the kingdom. Jesus began by describing the sower going out to sow. Jesus seems to describe in real time what He is doing with these parables themselves. For He is the sower and the next six parables taken together are the seed of the kingdom. So, the first parable last week and the last parable this week seem to be the shell of the seed. They describe that there is a definitive outside and inside to the kingdom: there are those who are weeds on the outside and the wheat on the inside of the kingdom….and today on other side of this seed – those who are the bad fish thrown away. But inside the kingdom we have two parables that describe God’s actions – how He makes this kingdom sprout up from the smallest plant that it can accommodate the birds of the sky and yet how it rises within us like the wheat flour in dough. And today our parables tell us what we must do with the seed to give it room within us to grow: for after finding this seed of unending love, there is a gap in both stories. There is the cross. We must sell everything we have – count as cheap all that we possess and trade it to purchase the field or the pearl. They are like the instructions for our hearts when we take in the seed – they tell us how to receive the kingdom and remind us that it’s worth it.
Love is the link between the romance and the Kingdom. And true romance can only be sustained when we acknowledge a supernatural nature to it: a nature that is only at home within the Kingdom of God. We can easily miss this because we have an appetite for love – just as we have an appetite for food. But most of our appetites have a floor. They have a bottom. They yawn out beneath us and we want to eat, we want to drink, we want other things that we crave, but when we get what we want we’ve had enough. If we are desperate enough, there can come a desire not for the burger itself, nor for the beer, nor for whatever else, but just for the hunger, the craving to be silenced somehow/anyhow that we might move on and focus on something else. We’re not always very picky. Love is completely different. It’s a supernatural reality and our desire to be loved – even while receiving love – does not go away. The true pearl of great price is Jesus Christ Himself. He fills us with light and joy, but adds no weight to us. His only burden truly makes us lighter – for He helps us to find joy in sacrifice. Christ gives Himself to us in such a way that we can possess Him just as a pearl that can make you unimaginably rich, but can be hidden in the palm of your hand. We can look at and love a pearl and keep loving it and desiring it more. The same with Christ.
We enter into the kingdom of God when we love our brothers and sisters to the point of sacrifice. It’s not that we should love one another as we love ourselves – that’s good, but Christ tells us to love our neighbor as He loves them. All of our neighbors. This is possible with the knowledge that Christ has already successfully shown us the way – and the way to both the pearl and the treasure together. The great cause and the great intimacy are both one in Christ as we love through Him, with Him, and in Him.
The Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything. It is worth not only rejecting everything else from our lives that could stand in the way, but it is worth being rejected gloriously in our efforts to share Christ’s love – to connect others and help them partake in this treasure that is infinite.
LATE ADDITION: Last night I was at a family reunion and was waiting to move around my Aunt Mary who was talking to someone. You know at reunions, I typically expect mostly family. But, lo and behold, as she stepped to one side I was introduced by her to a friend of hers. She explained her name was Madeleine and then she went on (without any prompting or question from me) to say that her name was the English form of Magdalena and she had a strong devotion to St. Mary Magdalen. God’s handwriting was all over this and I knew immediately that I was where I needed to be last night. Even more that this homily was on target. But as the night went on and I was leaving, I ran into Mary and Madeleine and said good-bye. Madeleine asked me for prayers and then told a little more of her story which just so happens to give a perfect example of our second reading. St. Paul says that “All things work together for the good for those who believe.” Madeleine has been living for four years now with stage IV lung cancer: without treatment. Yet, she is full of hope and joy and was singing God’s praises through the whole account. St. Mary Magdalen and those bearing her spirit, thank you for continuing to inspire me in the Great Cause: the Kingdom of God that provides for all we could ever need…and love.