Heaven vs. Cheesecake, Etc.

When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart. (Jeremiah 15:16)

The words of God filled the prophet with happiness. Why? The prophet answers: “Because I bore the name of the Lord God of hosts.”

The treasure buried in the field, the pearl of great price: the thing worth giving everything else up for… What excels the worth of every other conceivable thing? A person can take the long way or the short way to find the answer.

People get themselves in trouble when they say things like, “I would sell my soul for that piece of double-chocolate sinful decadence truffle cheesecake a la mode.” Or when they say something like, “If this is wrong, baby, I don’t want to be right.”

Trouble. Physical pleasure cannot justify total self-abandonment. Sensual delight is not the pearl of great price.

What about worldly glory? “I don’t want to be a mean guy. But I might have to tread on a few people’s heads to get to the top.” Or: “Gosh. I have built up such a great reputation for myself. Yeah, I made a little mistake here, but no one needs to know. They wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I’ll cut a corner here with the truth.”

Sounds a lot like what the former president of Penn State might have said to himself. Glory and power cannot quite justify total self-abandonment, either. How about money?

If I sell my soul for money, how much will I get? Will I get enough to put Robert Griffin III under contract to play quarterback for my pick-up touch-football team? And that will be fun for..what? an hour?

So: By the long way or the short way, we realize: God trumps. The eternal vocation of my immortal soul trumps. Nothing can really compete with the prospect of eternal happiness in heaven.

Four hours on an ATV, with unlimited gas, vs. heaven? Free Big Macs, every day for a month, vs. heaven? Two weeks in Monte Carlo, with fourteen different Gucci suits to wear while I’m there, vs. heaven? Heaven wins every time. It’s not even a fair fight. You could even throw something involving the young Sophia Lauren into the mix, and it still wouldn’t really be a contest. Heaven is better.

So: getting to heaven… The prophet: “How can I be healed?” The Lord: “If you repent—if you bring forth the precious without the vile, I will make you a wall of polished brass.”

If we find ourselves seeking God, it is because He has already found us. If we make good use of the sacraments, it is because the Lord gave them to us so that we could get to heaven. If our consciences accuse us of sin, it is because the Lord wants only to forgive and give us grace to sin no more.

His words, which, when we devour them, give happiness to our hearts…what are they exactly? Aren’t they as simple as this? “I made you in my own image and likeness for eternal life. My Son took your sins upon Himself, so that you can shine forever with perfect justice. Just let me love you.”

Abandon ourselves completely to that? Yes.

…PS. Click here to read one of the more inspiring exercises of pastoral leadership I have ever seen.

Click here to read another one.

Big Dig

Jesus said to his disciples: “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 that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

On Sunday we discussed these two parables. Both concern an object of superlative value. Both objects lay hidden, and then they are found.

The treasure of our faith lies hidden to us, deeply buried in the unfathomable divine mystery. We have frequently to remind ourselves that our faith and religious practice aim at nothing less than Almighty God Himself.

None of us are experts on the subject of God. We aspire to know Him. But what we now know lays on the surface. The treasure lies buried. We have to dig and dig and dig.

Perhaps the Lord has given us such intellectual Popes lately in order to teach us this lesson. For a generation, the Church has been led by brilliant scholars, men of towering intellect. Like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, our Popes have tirelessly applied their minds to the task of exploring the immeasurable depths of the simple mysteries of our faith. In their preaching and catechesis, the Popes of our age have spent years tirelessly digging deeper and deeper into the mystery of God.

In Boston a few years ago, they had the “Big Dig,” to put I-93 underground. The digging seemed to go on forever. But we need not fear that our spiritual excavations will entail endless labor. As the parables tell the tale, we search for something that intends to be found. This is the most fundamental fact of revelation: God wills that we seek AND FIND Him.

Yes, He demands that we revere His transcendence, that we fear His awesomeness and never presume to be familiar with things that are high above us. But He came to us. He became man to meet us. He wants our company—doesn’t need it, but freely wills it. We were made to know Him, not to be ignorant of Him.

Our lifetime of seeking Him will run its course. He allots us our days on earth as the calendar of our adventure of learning about Him. But on every one of our days of searching, we can take comfort in the fact that He plans to welcome us home when we do finally find Him.

Prudently Reckless

Jesus said to his disciples: “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 that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Anybody seen this summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie? Is it true that there is no buried treasure in it? How about a precious pearl? What about Keira Knightley?

Well, if the movie has no treasure chest and no pearl earrings, that’s okay. Because the gospel reading does.

Continue reading “Prudently Reckless”