Sunday, July 30, 2017


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 13:45-46

Listen to that again! “A merchant finally finds a very rare and beautiful pearl. A must-have, he goes and sells everything he has to buy that one single pearl.”

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to do almost anything or go through anything to have it? I am not talking about sitting around wishing and hoping that God or Readers Digest Sweepstakes or some fairy godmother or the Lottery would magically grant you your wish. I mean you want it so badly that you would do anything or go anywhere to have it?

Olympic athletes do exactly that! They set a goal in their minds and then focus their radar on that goal and daily do what it takes, year in and year out, to reach that goal. They certainly don’t just sit around and dream about or wish they could be an Olympic champion. They practice obsessively until they become one.

Several weeks ago, I read a story by a respected writer about his dream of owning a racing bike when he was nine years old. From selling newspapers, he had earned enough money to buy a bicycle magazine, which he devoured month after month. He decided, even at that age, that his foremost goal in life was to get a specific European racing bicycle he saw in that magazine. He went to bed, nightly, dreaming of his perfect bicycle. It became so real in his mind that he could almost see it and touch it.

It cost $175.00 (well over $1,0000 in today’s money). When he asked his father to buy it for him, his father told him he could have it when he was twenty years old. He could not get his father to budge, so he bargained with him. “Can I have the bicycle if I earn the money myself?” Never dreaming that a nine year old could come up with that kind of money, his Dad agreed. Well, the short of it was, he went into selling greeting cards from door to door. In knee-deep snow, dressed as cute and pathetic as he could, he rang doorbell after doorbell. His magic line was, “Would you prefer one box or two?”  He knew that he must sell cards to have his dream. To his Dad’s and everyone else’s surprise, he soon made enough to buy his precious bike.

It wasn’t a bike for me, it was being a priest. I was seven years old when I decided that I was going to be a priest. At fourteen, the earliest allowed back then to enter the seminary, I came up here from Meade County to begin my twelve year trek to become a priest. The adults in my life, parents, teachers and pastor, humored me, allowing me to begin seminary, thinking that I would finally "get it out of my system" and come home in a few months. To their surprise, this determined fourteen year old finished the twelve years of seminary and has been ordained for over forty-seven years and counting.

We call people like the merchant in search of the most perfect pearl in the whole world, people like the boy who wanted his dream racing bike or people like the boy who really wanted so much to be a priest, “passionate.” The word “passionate” comes from the Latin word passio, "to suffer.” The thing that all three have in common was that they were not only willing to dream about and wish for what they wanted, they were willing to pay the price to have it. The pearl merchant was willing to search high and low and finally sell everything he had to own the perfect pearl. The nine year old was willing to trudge through the snow and sell Christmas cards until he got his precious dream bicycle. This determined fourteen year old was willing to leave home and family and go off to an alien world and study his butt off, some summers working three jobs at a time, to reach his goal of ordination to the priesthood.

        When he finds that perfect pearl, he sells all that he has and buys it.

Jesus tells us today that this is the attitude and passion we need to have about “entering the kingdom of heaven.”  What is this “kingdom of heaven,” this “pearl of great price,” that Jesus is talking about? By “kingdom of heaven” Jesus is not talking about a state of being that will unfold only after we die, it is a way of living that begins here and now. It is a life of integrity, of trust in God and service of others. Jesus invites us to be passionate about living a life of integrity, living a life of trusting God without hesitation, living a life of dedicated service to others.  He calls it in other places “hungering and thirsting for holiness.” If only we could be as passionate about having a good life as we are about making a living! We all have to “make a living,” but Jesus invites us also to pursue a “good life” as well, a life of integrity, trust in God and service of others. This is really the “pearl of great price.” This “wealth” cannot be lost or destroyed, even in death!

Very often when people like me talk about being passionate about religion, some tend to translate “being passionate about religion” into being a “religious fanatic,” boring people out of their minds with endless God-talk, guilt trips and ecclesiastical intricacies. Personally, I have no use for religious fanatics who obsess about the earthenware jar that holds the great treasure, rather than the treasure itself. They end up preaching the church, instead of the message entrusted to the church. What I am talking about is living a life that is Christ-like in every aspect. 

“Hungering and thirsting” for the “kingdom of heaven” is a “pearl” worth looking for, a gift from God himself! Why search for it? It will make you happy down deep inside, not just feel good for a few hours! “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for holiness?” This kind of happiness can not be lost or stolen. It is the one thing you can take with you into the next life, where it will grow into a perfect happiness for all eternity.         

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