Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Venture of Faith; the Pearl of Great Price (Sunday homily)

The Gospel describes finding a treasure
in the field of the world:
the treasure—the priceless pearl—
is Jesus Christ.

To have that treasure, the price is high:
we must give up everything.

Will we pay that price?

To bring the question home to our own lives:
what have we given up,
that we might have Christ?
Have we given up, or said “No” to anything,
that we wouldn’t have given up, or refused,
either way?

Cardinal John Henry Newman,
the famous convert
from Anglicanism to the Catholic Faith,
once preached a sermon called
“The Ventures of Faith”—
and I’d like to draw liberally from him.

We cannot doubt, he says,

“that the ventures of all Christ’s servants
must be returned to them at the Last Day
with abundant increase.

"This is a true saying:
he returns far more than we lend to him,
and without fail…”

Where Cardinal Newman speaks of “venture,”
we would say, “risk”; and he asks:
isn’t this exactly what faith is:
that we put something at risk?

Something that would be lost

if it turns out that Christ is a false Messiah—
if Christianity is all a fable?

So there’s the question:
what have we put at risk in that case?

Newman says, “let everyone who hears me
ask…How would he be a whit the worse off,
supposing...[Christ’s promise] to fail?”

He says, “we think, perhaps, at present,
we have some hope of heaven.
Well, this we should lose, of course”

But beyond that, “how should we be worse off
as to our present condition?”

“I really fear,” Newman adds,
“it will be found that there is nothing we resolve,
nothing we do, nothing we do not do,
nothing we avoid, nothing we choose,
nothing we give up, nothing we pursue…
which we should not resolve, and do, and not do,
and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue,
if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us.”

Wow—he’s pretty tough, isn’t he?

Now, it’s true that many of us do give things up:
many give up more lucrative jobs,
to work in our school, or our parishes.

Parents have a larger family,
because they heed God’s call to give and share life.

Women who take vows as nuns
could have sought promising careers.
They, and priests, give up marriage and family.

In many parts of the world, people still risk even more:
in Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia,
you can and will be jailed—lose everything—and killed—

for sharing faith in Christ.
In Red China, priests and bishops sit in jail for decades,
because they will not renounce their loyalty to the pope.
Now that is taking a risk of faith!

So, what about us?
What have we really risked—
what would we lose, if Christ were not real?

How much you and I value the Treasure of Christ,
found in the field of the world, waiting for us,
is revealed by what we venture, what we risk,
to obtain that treasure.

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