22 July 2011

'The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 24 July 2011

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1665

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 13:44-52 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

'Have you understood all this?' They said, 'Yes'. And he said to them, 'Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old'.

Soiscéal, Matha 13:44-52 (Gaeilge, Irish)
San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le stór a bhí i bhfolach i ngort, agus an fear a d’aimsigh é d’fholaigh, gur imigh le barr áthais ag díol a raibh aige gur cheannaigh an gort sin.

“Nó fós, is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le ceannaí a bhí ag lorg péarlaí breátha. Tharla aon phéarla amháin leis a bhí róluachmhar, agus d’imigh agus dhíol a raibh aige gur cheannaigh sé é.

“Nó fós, is cosúil ríocht na bhflaitheas le heangach a cuireadh san fharraige agus a ghabh gach uile shórt. Ar bheith lán di, tharraing siad aníos ar an gcladach í, shuigh siad síos ansin ag cnuasach gach tairbhe i soithí agus ag caitheamh na dramhaíola uathu. Sin mar a bheidh i ndeireadh an tsaoil: rachaidh na haingil amach agus scarfaidh siad na drochdhaoine ó na fíréin agus teilgfidh siad san fhoirnéis tine iad. Is ann a bheidh gol agus díoscán fiacla.

“Ar thuig sibh na nithe sin uile?” “Thuigeamar,” ar siad leis. Dúirt sé leo: “Sin an fáth, gach scríobhaí a bhíonn ina dheisceabal de ríocht na bhflaitheas, gur cosúil é le fear tí a thógann amach as a stór nithe nua agus sean.”

Ag Críost an síol

Ag Críost an síol, ag Críost an fómhar;
in iothlainn Dé go dtugtar sinn.

Ag Críost an mhuir, ag Críost an t-iasc;
i líonta Dé go gcastar sinn.

Ó fhás go haois, ó aois go bás,
do dhá láimh, a Chríost, anall tharainn.

Ó bhás go críoch nach críoch ach athfhás,
i bParthas na ngrás go rabhaimid.

(Translation by Thomas Kinsella)

To Christ the seed, to Christ the crop,
in barn of Christ may we be brought.

To Christ the sea, to Christ the fish,
in nets of Christ may we be caught.

From growth to age, from age to death,
Thy two arms here, O Christ, about us.

From death to end — not end but growth,
in blessed Paradise may we be.

Fifty years ago the Church in Ireland observed a Patrician Year, to observe the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick in 461. He first came to Ireland as a kidnapped 16-year-old and managed to escape after six years. He came back years later as a missionary bishop, in answer to a clear call from God.
In the summer of 1961 the Archdiocese of Dublin held a special congress. In the foreword to a booklet, St Patrick's Achievement, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid wrote, The Dublin Congress of the Patrician Year has one purpose: to express to God our gratitude for the gift of the Faith . . . It is by a singular grace of God that we have been enabled to retain the Faith throughout the centuries.

When I entered the Columban seminary in Ireland that year there were more than 190 studying there for the missionary priesthood. Many other seminaries in Ireland had similar numbers.Today the Columban seminary and all but one of the others are closed. The Church is reviled by some and seen as irrelevant by many others, especially young people. There are many reasons for this. One is the failure of Church authorities to the abuse of children and adolescents by a small number of priests. I would say that the vast majority of people, including priests, were unaware of anything of this kind until it began to come to light in North America in the 1980s and in more recent years in Ireland. But there is a perception that even now some Church leaders are not prepared to take the necessary steps to punish those involved and to make sure it never happens again.

The first two parables tell us what someone is ready to pay when he discovers a treasure. Vermeer's painting shows us why a person would want to own a precious pearl, not to hide it away but to use it to enhance the beauty of a human being made in God's image.

But sometimes we can sell the field with the treasure or the pearls for a pittance, with utter disregard for the value of what we are throwing away. There is much historical evidence of whole communities losing the gift of the Faith, for whatever reason. The whole of Saharan Africa is one example. Modern Europe is another. Quebec in Canada and Ireland are two very recent examples of places where the faith has to a large extent ceased to be a factor or a formative influence in the lives of people.

As a missionary in the Philippines I have a fear that what has happened in my own country since I came here 40 years ago may happen here too. When I left Ireland bishops were still very powerful figures of whom politicians were afraid. We boasted of our 'Spiritual Empire'. There was some truth in that and there was a sense of gratitude to God too. There was enormous growth in the missionary dimension of the Church in Ireland in the first two/thirds of the last century.Churches were packed every Sunday and, at least in Dublin where I grew up, on weekdays during Lent.

Perhaps the boasting about our 'Spiritual Empire' led to hubris and a lack of gratitude for the precious pearl of the Faith that St Patrick had, through God's grace, brought to us.

In recent weeks the bishops and the State in the Philippines have been at odds over vehicles given to seven dioceses by the Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office, a government agency. While the bishops concerned have all returned the vehicles and were treated with deference when they appeared before a Senate committee you have to ask if they have lost much of their moral authority. The Philippine bishops are at odds with the government over proposed Reproductive Health legislation, aspects of which are contrary to the Church's teaching. Will people listen to them if they perceive that some of them have been too cozy with politicians?

Like last week, there is a sting in the tail of one of the short parables. The net catches some fish that are of no use. These will be thrown out. Jesus is reminding us that it is possible for us to reject him.

The Irish hymn above prays, 'i líonta Dé go gcastar sinn - in nets of Christ may we be caught'. Will I be among the fish put in a basket or will I be thrown back into the sea as useless? Will my community be among the fish put in a basket or will we be thrown back into the sea as useless?

If we constantly express to God our gratitude for the gift of the Faith  and remember that It is by a singular grace of God that we have been enabled to retain the Faith throughout the centuries I don't think we have need to fear.

1 comment:

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