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FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 17th SUNDAY (A) - July 27, 2014

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Don’t you love stories that tell of a person stumbling upon a magic lantern or amulet? They accidentally rub it and a fairy godmother or genie appears saying,

"Wish for anything you want and I will grant it to you." That’s when we put the book we are reading down and our imagination runs wild. What would we wish for: money? No more work? Good health? Long life? Peace in our families? Peace in the world? I’ve always wanted to be a concert violinist, without the long hours of practice. That’s what I would be tempted to wish for.

The first reading, from I Kings today, enlivens our imagination. God comes to Solomon in a dream and bids him "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." God has entered Solomon’s life with an open invitation that catches Solomon at a vulnerable time in his life. He is young and has just begun to reign as king. He is feeling inadequate. Solomon has gone to the mountain shrine of Gibeon to pray for help. In his response to God he admits his need: his youth and inexperience and the burden on his shoulders of ruling a large nation.

Solomon could have asked for anything, but his request is for an "understanding heart." (Some translate this as "an understanding mind.") He’s not asking to have all knowledge at his fingertips. He will not try to impress his subjects by knowing everything. Instead, he wants to know how to govern a vast nation with an "understanding heart." In other words a "listening heart," so that he will be able to distinguish between good and evil; to determine what is right for his people. He seems to understand already that his role as a ruler will require that he be unselfish in his service of God and God’s people.

Let’s return to the beginning of the story. If God put the same offer to us, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you" – what would we ask for? The offer really puts our priorities and highest values on the line, doesn’t it? Who are those who are important to us? What do we need in order to respond and be of service to them? In addition, what are our core values? Since God took the initiative in the story and granted Solomon’s right-ordered request, maybe God is ready to do the same for us, if we discern our priorities and ask.

Solomon was invited to make a choice. So were the disciples in today’s gospel. The kingdom of heaven requires us to do the same. It may seem that we happen upon it, by chance, like the treasure buried in the field. Still, it requires discernment on our part. Can we appreciate what a treasure we have come upon? Are we willing to accept it in joy and make the sacrifices in our lives to retain it? These are big choices, not lightly entered into. Once the person in the parable sells all they have to obtain the treasure they will have nothing left – except the treasure. Our daily lives need to consistently reflect the choice we have made in our response to God. We will need to practice, as fully as we can, what we profess here in church on Sunday? After all, we did buy the field didn’t we?

If we did buy the field then all of our living will reflect our choice. What is the cost of Christianity? Everything. Didn’t Peter, Andrew, James and John leave all they had– boats, and nets, father and their business, to follow Jesus (4:18-22)? Later Matthew would leave his tax collector’s post (9:9) to follow Jesus. They did give up much to "buy the field."

At first they may have felt excitement as they followed the popular itinerant preacher. Later, after the tragedy of his death and the revelation of his resurrection, they would experience the joy the person in the parable did. Note that the Gospels don’t emphasize the sacrifice the first disciples made. The sacrifice was worth it, they had come to know the joy one finds in the kingdom of heaven.

We shouldn’t get distracted by the legalities of whether it was proper for the man to keep the treasure secret from the field’s owner. We will let Jesus, the storyteller, tell us a brief, pointed parable about a happen-chance finding and the joy the discovery brought to a person . While the cost of purchasing the field to get the treasure is great – "all that he has" – I wouldn’t stress the sacrifice the man makes. Jesus seems to focus on the treasure that is the kingdom and the joy that treasure brings to the new owner.

Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven aren’t other-worldly stories. If they were we would be gazing up at the sky to see what the kingdom is like. Instead, when Jesus began his ministry after his sojourn in the wilderness, he proclaimed, "Reform your lives, the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (5:17). Where could people find that kingdom?

They would discover it in very concrete ways, when Jesus entered their lives and healed someone; reached out to outcasts; cared for the poor; accepted men and women as equals. That’s how concrete and close the kingdom of heaven was for people when Jesus passed by. It was like the person in the parable. They would discover the treasure of the kingdom, as if by chance. And once they accepted it, they would share in its joy.

People could also discover the closeness of the kingdom whenever Jesus told one of his parables. The parables were as ordinary as everyday life – seed planted, bread baked, sheep lost and found, pearls purchased and fish caught. Those are the examples Jesus used to help his hearers imagine God in their lives – in this life, and now, not in a future time and in a far off residence. He described God’s word as Moses did to the people about to enter the Promise Land: "something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out" (Deut 30:14).

The actions of Jesus tell us that God’s revelation is concrete and up close. It’s also what the parables teach us by their ordinary, everyday figures: that the kingdom of heaven is right there in front of us in our daily lives, if only we have ears and eyes to perceive it. Parables, like today’s, provide the eyes and ears to catch God’s entrance into our lives in surprising ways: like a treasure you happen to stumble on and realize its life-changing the value. When we realize that, we do whatever we have to do to possess it in joy.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072714.cfm

ONE GOOD RESOURCE FOR THE PREACHER

Richard J. Sklba, "Fire Starters: Igniting the Holy in the Weekday Homily." (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) Paper, $39.95. ISBN 978-0-8146-3415-8

Bishop Sklba brings the skills of a biblical scholar and pastor to this excellent resource. Those of us who preach at daily Mass and Communion services will find his reflections on the readings excellent resources to feed the preaching preparation process. He provides "fire starters" to touch both mind and heart with God’s Word. This text can help fill in the gap for help with the preachings that occupy the daily ministry of us preachers.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart

1 Kings 3:9

The word "understand" is used at least five times in today’s readings. To comprehend the term, "understanding heart," from the ancient biblical perspective, we should know that Solomon is asking God for a "listening heart." The heart in the Old Testament refers not to the organ circulating the blood, but to the seat of the intellect and the ability to discern good and evil. Solomon wants to follow God’s direction through the process of discernment. But, something else also happens when a person starts listening with their hearts. Pope Francis writes, in The Joy of the Gospel (Word Among Us, 2013), that:

"When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries" (272).

You see, if we are to grow our relationship with God, we cannot have a spirituality that is merely a vertical me and Thee. No, to grow our relationship with God, we have to have a spirituality that is me, Thee, and the other. This is a spirituality that is both vertical and horizontal. Thus, Pope Francis calls us all to be missionaries as he goes on to write:

"My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ of just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing" (273).

How do we do this? First, we must make the decision that we want to deepen our relationship with God. Then, we must step out to encounter the other—the poor, the disadvantaged, the incarcerated, the immigrant, the sick. . .

We have many ministries here at Sacred Heart. If you didn’t know that, you haven’t looked at the Sacred Heart website (www.sacredheartcathedral.org) under ministries of social justice. Then, ask God for an understanding heart.

----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,

which a person finds and hides again,

and out of joy goes and sells all that he has

to buy that field.

Reflection:

It may seem that we happen upon the kingdom of heaven, mere birth or by chance – like the treasure buried in the field. Still, it requires discernment on our part. Can we appreciate what a treasure we have come upon? Are we willing to accept it in joy and make the sacrifices in our lives to retain it?

So we ask ourselves:

  • In my daily life how do I experience the treasure that is the kingdom of heaven?
  • What sacrifice is that treasure now asking of me?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Terrence Taylor #0539901 (On death row since 2/18/97)
  • Johnny S. Parker #0311966 (3/234/97)
  • Hedgepath Rowland #0176701 (7/3/97)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."
  • If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

    You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

    (These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

    2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

    3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

    Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

    4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


    Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

    fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

    St. Albert Priory

    3150 Vince Hagan Drive

    Irving, Texas 75062-4736

    frjude@judeop.org

    972-438-1626

     


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