What’s of real value?
Sometimes I laugh at myself because although I like to think that I have absolutely everything I need and can hope for, I may enter a supermarket or a shopping mall and then suddenly realise that there are other things I desperately must have. Things like hangers with the capacity for keeping five formal trousers on a single rack, a miniature fan that can be clipped onto my study desk, a little post-it note pad that will be useful for writing important things to be done, or a discreet object that can open envelopes without a hassle!
At times advertisements challenge me too, when they suggest that without a particular product, I will not be able to live the kind of life intended for me. If I am not careful, discerning and vigilant, I can very easily become a slave to some material things that previous generations did not even realise were important.
Interestingly, this weekend marks one full year since I left Trinidad for studies. On July 25, 2016, I had to look at everything that I owned and leave them behind. Some books and clothes I took with me to Toronto if I am to be honest, but some other things I gave away. Some things were stored away and others are now permanent features of the presbytery in Toco. Although many of the things were very important to me, the pain of leaving them did not last more than a moment in time, thankfully.
In this weekend’s Gospel passage taken from Matthew 13, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to someone who has found a treasure in a field and another who finds a pearl of great value. In both of these parables, the two people sold everything they owned for the one thing they recognised was of the greatest value. These parables offered to us by Jesus must remind us that everything we possess is not everything! No matter how necessary and important the things we have may be, our hearts will always be longing for something of meaning that is beyond these.
How practical is this Gospel today? Priests, religious brothers and sisters, are expected to live simply and some admirably take the vow of poverty to its extreme literal glory, but does Jesus expect mothers and fathers with young children to sell everything they own? How many of us are really called to live the life of saints like Francis, Clare, or Mother Teresa, for instance?
Well, in the parables, the two people sold everything that they owned but they bought something they discerned had even greater worth! They gave up what they had to get something better. In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven is really like those ones who are able to recognise the most valuable thing and to go after it.
On this note, I have had the privilege of presiding over numerous funerals and I have heard countless eulogies that have spoken of ordinary women and men who were willing to make decisions in their lives in order that their children received a good education, a warm and loving home environment; mothers and fathers who gave up everything for that treasure or that pearl of great price that was a family together.
At times like those, I see the Kingdom of Heaven, not in the house, the cars, the nice furniture, or hefty bank accounts but young men and women standing shoulder to shoulder, giving testimony about what is really significant in this life.
Unfortunately, I also know that people can give up everything they possess for things that do not hold real value. Life has already taught me that some people can give up all that they have for things that only offer short-term pleasure and that lead to despair, emptiness and hollow satisfaction.
I have a model in the lives of holy people but most perfectly in Jesus, the one who put everything this world had to offer Him in its rightful place, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Unique hangers, clip-on fans, post-it note pads, clothes, shoes, or houses are perhaps things that we possess but I wish that we all can recognise that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth more than all of these.
The Gospel reflections for July were done by Fr Steve Ransome, former parish priest of Toco/Matelot, who is on study leave at the University of Toronto, Regis College.