17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“John Donne Arrives in Heaven” by Stanley Spencer (1911)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and to a pearl of great price. When they are discovered, the one who finds them sells all he has to acquire them. The point is the value of the kingdom of heaven, which leads us to the last comparison; the net thrown into the sea. At the end of the age all humanity will be gathered together and some will be invited into the kingdom of heaven and others will not.

As Jesus says in another place, “Where ever your treasure is, so also will your heart be.” Mt.6:21. Those to who the kingdom of heaven was of primary importance during their life and who were faithful witnesses of their love for God and neighbor will receive their treasure in heaven.

In the first reading we see that Solomon answered wisely when God offered to give him whatever he asked for. When he asked for an understanding heart so that he could serve God and His people better, God was pleased. In his heart, Solomon was not far from the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he was prophesying what Jesus would tell us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Mt. 6:33. These words from Jesus are the light that will guide us into his kingdom. They are the fulfillment of the Two Greatest Commandments; we must love the Lord Our God with all our mind, Heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. When we order our lives to God, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, even in the midst of suffering.

So we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure? What are you willing to give everything you have for? One resource that we all have equally is time. Every one of us has 24 hours each day and how we use that time has a great deal to do with our proximity to the kingdom of heaven.

I have heard people say they do not have time to pray. What is it that you are doing that you can do without God’s help? It is His love that sustains us, allows us to take our next breath. It is said “No prayer means no faith,” because prayer is our connection to God, and without faith we have no real hope.

We are all aware of the terrible things that are happening in the Middle East and Africa. There will be more martyrs in this century than in all the other centuries put together. Right now there are Christians living in Mosul, Iraq, being told they have three choices: they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax and leave their home, or be killed. Because of this, the Patriarch of Mosul said the city is empty of Christians for the first time in Two thousand years. In Syria, young Christian men are being crucified among other atrocities. This violence against Christians is not something that is passing; it is escalating.

Bishops in the Middle East wonder why the rest of the world is silent as Christians are being persecuted. We may not have to shed our blood for our faith in this country, but there is a growing hostility to Christianity even here. When our culture accepts and promotes immorality as normal, it sees Christianity as an adversary.

Even in the Holy Land which is sacred to the three major religions there is much tension. At the end of our pilgrimage two weeks ago we spent an additional three days in Jerusalem to pray and visit friends. Though life is difficult, they want to remain there because of their faith and their love for the land. Presently there is less than one and a half percent of the population that is Christian. They tell us that the most important thing we can do for them is to tell people in the U.S. that they, the Mother Church, the descendants of the first Christians, are still present in the Holy Places and they need our prayers and they need us to come there on Pilgrimage because their survival depends on the presents and prayers of pilgrims.

There is an urgency for those of us who take our faith seriously to increase our prayer time, fast and make sacrifices as people have done in the past when faced with great conflicts. Wars have been won when multitudes have joined together in praying the rosary.

Jesus closes this Gospel by asking, “Do you understand all these things?” Like Solomon, let us pray for the gift of understanding, but also for the greater gift of faith, because by faith we are often called to believe that which we cannot understand. The Scriptures and the Church will guide us into the kingdom of heaven if we believe what has been revealed to us and then act on what we believe.

Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice. The question we must ask ourselves is; does our faith influence all the important decisions we make?

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About Deacon Tom Fox

Deacon Tom Fox is the co-founder of The Pilgrim Center of Hope. The Pilgrim Log is the blog of the Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry, providing weekly spiritual reflections to help you journey toward a deeper relationship with Christ. Learn more about the Pilgrim Center of Hope by visiting www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

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