Pastoral Sharings: "17th Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 27, 2014

In our Gospel today we are presented with three more 
parables about the nature of the Kingdom. The first two 
about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price 
tell us about the inestimable value of the Kingdom. The 
third one about the dragnet tells us about the great 
diversity of its make up.

I recently visited a most interesting Auction House, I’d noticed it was viewing day and as I was in the vicinity went in to take a look. It’s a fascinating place; there were all kinds of interesting items of furniture as well as a lot of old crockery, jewellery, paintings and many other curiosities.

There’s only one day for viewing so the place was full of people examining the various items they were interested in and making notes in the catalogue.

I watched a chap examining a collection of rather old clocks. He had a magnifying glass in one eye and was carefully peering into the back of each of the clocks to see the state of the mechanism.

He reminded me of the merchant in the parable today looking for the pearl of great price. This clock dealer was using his expert knowledge to see which of the clocks were worth buying. And who knows, one day he might discover a clock worth thousands that no one else has recognised!

This is a very good image for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is all around us but most people aren’t aware of it. But those of us who do realise that it is there do everything we can to possess it.

The majority of people only have the very haziest notion of the spiritual; they think that there might possibly be a God but don’t see much evidence of his hand at work in the world and so forget about him most of the time.

It is often only when there is a crisis that they bring him to mind, but because they are so unfamiliar with the things of the Spirit they don’t know how to pray or call upon his aid.

They don’t realise that one of the greatest signs of God’s presence in the world is the very fact that he doesn’t make himself overtly known.

Clear evidence of God’s presence is that he gives us the tremendous gift of free will and leaves us to make our own decision as to whether we acknowledge him or not.

Paradoxically it is God’s apparent absence that shows how great he is. He doesn’t need to press himself upon us and make himself known. Actually it would be a sign of weakness if he had to constantly advertise himself. He prefers anonymity and ambiguity, he wants us discover him for ourselves rather than force himself upon us.

In ordinary life to give an anonymous gift is regarded as something special. This is particularly the case when the gift is a large one. But most people, quite naturally, want a bit of credit and it is hard for them to resist the temptation to reveal who the giver is.

And yet there is a negative side to making oneself known because it can place an obligation on the receiver of the gift. They might feel that they have to be extremely grateful or obliged give something in return.

This is the very reason why God doesn’t advertise his presence overmuch. If he let us know just how much he has done for us we would feel under such a heavy obligation to him that we would be completely paralysed and wouldn’t be able to do anything other than praise and thank him for the rest of our lives.

In the person of Jesus God has revealed himself definitively to the world. Through Jesus he has shown us what he is like and makes the great sacrifice that takes our sins away. But there is no definitive proof of this; we are invited to take it on faith.

And so the choice rests with us. The invitation is placed before us and it is entirely up to us whether we accept it. We are invited to believe in all that Jesus told us and to embrace the Gospel as our way of life, but there is absolutely no compulsion.

It could be that those of us who have taken Jesus at face value have a special sensitivity to the things of the Spirit or perhaps it is that we are open to the action of God’s grace in our lives.

Whatever the reason, we have come to know God; we have come to appreciate that his Kingdom of love and peace is indeed the “pearl of great price” that we simply must possess.

But unlike the merchants in the story or the man in the auction house we do not only want to possess it for ourselves because we understand that the Kingdom of God is not that kind of thing. It is not something that can be limited only to us; it is something that in order to possess we must share with others.

This is one of the great paradoxes of the Gospel. To possess the Kingdom means to share our knowledge of it with others. To truly believe in Christ means leading other people to the same knowledge; for secret faith is no faith at all.

We need to be like the householder, mentioned at the end of our Gospel reading today, who brings out of his house things both new and old. We should be happy to bring out of the house that is our life all kinds of treasures to share with our neighbours.

But these treasures are not things like clocks and pearls but attitudes and virtues like love and justice and truth and hope and so on. What we bring out from our treasure store are the values of the Kingdom, the attitudes of Jesus and the knowledge of the one true God.
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Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
July 27, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A—July 27, 2014
Gospel (Read Mt 13:44-52)

The Gospel reading gives us another cluster of parables about the kingdom of heaven, adding to an unusually high number in just one chapter. The first two are very similar. In one, the kingdom is compared to a “treasure buried in a field.” The one who finds the treasure immediately recognizes its great value, so he hides it again, for safe-keeping, and “out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” He is thrilled with the prospect of the riches the treasure will bring him. Knowing its value, he has no trouble selling all his other possessions. Nothing he currently owns is worth more than the treasure in that field. In the next parable, a merchant is out searching for fine pearls. He finds one of staggering quality; he, too, “goes and sells all he has and buys it.” He knows that the pearl of great price will more than compensate him for whatever losses he has to count. What is the message here?
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Seventeenth Sunday: Wisdom
This Sunday’s readings begin Solomon’s request for Wisdom and conclude with a summation of the Lord’s teaching on the parables. 

At the conclusion of the Dissertation on the parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus states: “Every scribe of the Kingdom is like the head of the household who brings out from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  Jesus spoke to the Jewish people, well versed in Hebrew scripture.  The Gospel of Matthew was pointed towards Jewish Christians. Jesus is not replacing what we call the Old Testament with the New Testament.  He is combining the best of the Hebrew Scriptures with the New Way, the Kingdom of God. The wise one, the scribe of the Kingdom, therefore, knows how to use what is old and what is new.
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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Matthew 13: 44-52

The tone of the first reading of today’s mass is shaped by the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, made nearly three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Classical Greek language and culture had a strong intellectual and conceptual focus, often seeking to capture ideas and realities in abstract terms. This stood somewhat in contrast to Hebrew language and thought, which was intensely earthy and visceral. An example of the differences in the Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking shows through in this text from the First Book of Kings. In the translation influenced by Greek idiom we hear King Solomon ask for the gift of “an understanding heart”, whereas in the Hebrew original we read that he asked for “a listening heart”.
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Reflections for Sunday, July 27, 2014
Knowing We are Treasured by God

Out of joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

Have you ever noticed how much effort some people put into identifying themselves with certain groups? From social clubs to frequent-flyer programs, from parish committees to social networks, we are all looking for some sense of belonging. But the problem is, for every group that has welcomed you, there are even more that won’t. This is why the gospel truly is good news: Jesus welcomes everyone, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. He has established a group where no one ever has to be turned away.
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Jesus is in the House! A Consideration of How Jesus’ Teaching Must Take Place in the Church
In the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which we are currently going through in daily Mass, there are a number of parables that Matthew seems to have collected from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Among them are the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and tares, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast.

Another structure employed by Matthew, likely recording the actual practice of Jesus, is the mention of  “the house.”
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Angels, Our Friends Indeed
Never forget that God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son. And he so loved his children, that he gave us each an angel.

I recall scooting to one side in my desk during second grade at St. Albert the Great school to make room for my angel to sit next to me. Our teacher Sr. Annette had just talked to us about our angels and made the suggestion that we could leave room in our seats for our angels to sit next to us. Since angels are spirits without physical bodies, it might seem silly, but I think my angel really did fill in that space next to me.
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Front Row With Francis: The Sacrament of Confirmation
When I got assigned to write about Pope Francis’ general audience on Confirmation, I was filled with joy. I smiled thinking how beautiful God works in our lives. I go to different churches and talk about the importance of Confirmation to our young people and tell them my story, and how the Holy Spirit worked so powerfully in my life.
 
Pope Francis puts an emphasis on how important it is for baptized Catholics to fulfill the graces they received from Baptism and go on to Confirmation to be sealed with the Holy Spirit.
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Abandonment to Jesus
Per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso: through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.

“Without me, you can do nothing.”

“With You, Jesus, I can do all things.”

Renew these thoughts which bind you to Him and which plunge you into the abyss of love which is His Heart. The logical and necessary consequence of the complete confidence which I have preached to you until now is total abandonment.
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Our Journey to God Never Ends—Even For Saints
When Catholics speak of conversion, we usually mean the journey of our hearts, minds, and souls to God—not an instantaneous experience, a sudden surge of faith and emotion, or a bolt of supernatural lightning that seals us forever as the elect.

The idea of faith as a journey is well illustrated in the lives of some of the twentieth century’s greatest apologists. Thomas Merton climbed the “seven story mountain.” C.S. Lewis went from the Church of Ireland to atheism to high Anglicanism. Malcolm Muggeridge, a prominent British journalist, spent most of last century on his path to conversion, ending in the Church in the early 1980s. Muggeridge described it as finding his “resting place.”
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What is the Answer to Suffering, Pain and Loss?
Many years ago, I taught 4th Grade CCD for my parish religious education department. It was the first evening of classes and I was starting the process of getting everyone introduced to one another when one boy blurted out, “I am going to be your worst nightmare.” He was speaking to me. You could say that I was taken aback, but that would be an understatement. Where in the world did that come from? And how should I respond?
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Miracles and Evangelism
Some of the greatest gifts God has given to the Church for evangelism are the gifts of miracles. As a Pentecostal before I became Catholic, I always believed God still performs miracles, but I never saw anything close to what Catholics too often take for granted in both the number and kind of miracles God pours out upon his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in every generation. Everything from the raising of the dead, to restorative miracles of the body and more have been experienced in the Church for 2,000 years fulfilling our Lord’s prophetic words of Mark 16:17-20:
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Ten Ways To Grow in Prayer
Prayer is the key to salvation.  St. Augustine says that he who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and to he who dies well all is well. St. Alphonsus reiterates the same principle:  “He who prays much will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned; he who prays little places in jeopardy his eternal salvation.  The same saint asserted that there are neither strong people nor weak people in the world, but those who know how to pray and those who do not. In other words prayer is our strength in all times and places.
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Irrationality and Infallibility
Not too long ago I spoke with yet another Protestant minister who is about to leave his ministry and join the Catholic Church. He said he ended up in this situation because he had a seminary professor who kept challenging his students to, “Think it through.”

He tried to think through his opposition to Catholicism because he had a parishioner who was asking troublesome questions in his own journey to the Catholic Church, and as the pastor tried to think things through he ended up becoming a Catholic himself.
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6 Ways to Cultivate the Virtue of Humility
Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.     —St. Augustine

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you’ll know that I speak frequently about the importance of humility. The saints make it perfectly clear that humility is the foundation of all spiritual growth. If we are not humble, we are not holy. It is that simple.

But while it’s simple enough to know that we should be humble, it’s not always so easy in practice. Accordingly, I want to discuss six methods to cultivate the virtue of humility.
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Why Prophecy?
“Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” –1 Thessalonians 5:20

From time to time on a Catholic blog or Facebook post someone will make reference to the prophetic utterance or alleged message from some saint, seer, or sage.

Almost always in discussions about prophecy, whether old or new, somebody will correctly state that even approved private revelation is not binding on us and nobody is ever obligated to believe in it.

So the question is, why bother with it at all?
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How to Forgive When I Can’t Forget
While many people believe forgetting an injury is part of forgiveness, Fr. Justin Waltz, pastor of St. Leo’s Church in Minot, ND, suggested just the opposite during a retreat he gave. In fact, he stated that forgetting is not even possible. “The only type of forgetting I have heard of is stuffing,” he said during a retreat presentation and added, “The hurt is not gone, it is just buried deep within.”
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A Timeless Lesson and the Burden of Sin
I have been thinking a great deal about my experience at Reconciliation this past Saturday. I felt an intense and unexplainable urge to go and confess my sins when I woke up that morning. I try to go every six weeks or so, but this was no routine visit to the priest for me. I needed to unburden myself of the numerous venial sins I had committed since I last participated in this Sacrament. I was able to see the true nature of these sins as a tremendous burden on my shoulders, as a fog that kept me from seeing the path ahead and absolutely as obstacles in my relationship with Christ. I know these observations to be true because the moment I left the confessional booth I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted, my spiritual vision was restored and I was again focused on serving the Lord.
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Ten Tips for a Better Confession
In the context of an Ignatian retreat it is always beneficial to prepare oneself to make an excellent Confession. To make a good confession demands prior preparation. The better the prior preparation, the more abundant the graces and the more overflowing the river of peace in your soul!

Following are ten short helps to make the best confession in your life.
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We Don’t Call Her “The Virgin Mary” For Nothing
Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary,  Blessed Mother. However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.

Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.

For Catholics, it’s a different story.
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Responding to “Spiritual but Not Religious” Christians
Over the last several years I have encountered a fair number of Christians who claim they are “spiritual but not religious.” In other words, they do not identify with a particular Christian denomination, using the Bible alone to guide their faith. It’s an ideology that says religious institutions are outdated and unnecessary.
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A Place for Family Prayer
Life today is fast-paced and can lead us astray, so we need to slow down sometimes and reset our direction toward God. The best way to begin this reorientation is by making space – both physically and spiritually – for prayer in the home.
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Catholicism and the Perils of Technology
A confession: I am writing this column on my MacBook Air computer with my iPhone at my side. And I regularly enlist the help of a cellphone App to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. And after all, I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and have lectured to 300 actual and would-be Techies and Masters of the Universe.
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Five Rules for Consoling the Dying
There are some things that should never be said to the dying. I’ve never bothered developing a comprehensive “no-no” list but years of parish ministry have attuned me to the particularly egregious.

First, if you are approaching a bedside, try not to act like a novice Optimist Club member, all hale and hearty and booming of voice. I know you are trying to cheer people up, but that’s not the way to do it. Ginned up bon ami “let’s do lunch soon” camaraderie makes me wonder if you can see reality.
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