Archbishop Lori’s Homily – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
St. Mark, Catonsville

July 25-26, 2020

Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt

In 2010, a man named Forrest Fenn, hid a treasure chest in the Rocky Mountains. He announced that he had done this and provided clues to its whereabouts. The contents of the chest were valued at more than a million dollars. Over the past ten years, an estimated 350,000 people went in search of that treasure. Some quit their jobs to search for it; others depleted their savings; still others took imprudent risks and a few even lost their lives.

This summer, an anonymous individual, using clues in a poem Mr. Fenn had written, finally found the treasure chest and sent a photo confirming his find.

With careful attention to Mr. Fenn’s own words and with extraordinary perseverance, that individual claimed a treasure that had eluded thousands of others.

There are in fact three things to note about this anonymous seeker of fortune: First, finding the hidden treasure chest mattered to him; it was something he wanted. Second, he paid close attention to the words of the person who hid the treasure. Third, he was willing to invest a lot of time and strenuous effort to find it.

It turns out, however, that we need to have those very same qualities if we are to take to heart the Lord’s words to us in today’s Gospel – his words about finding and securing a treasure hidden in a field and his words about searching for and obtaining a pearl of great price.

The Treasure

So, first, let us talk about treasure, that which we consider as truly valuable – whether it be a treasure chest hidden in a field or in the Rocky Mountains, or an exquisitely large and beautiful pearl concealed inside an oyster. Forrest Fenn filled his treasure chest with ancient jewelry, gold, jade and diamonds, the same “baubles, bangles and beads” that have attracted humankind for centuries. If the truth were to be told, most of us, myself included, would jump at the chance to unearth such a treasure chest.But what is really valuable and how can we tell?

In today’s reading from the First Book of Kings, Solomon, who was soon to succeed his father David as king, asks the Lord, not for riches but rather for ‘a wise and understanding heart,’ a heart that knows how to distinguish right from wrong.

He made that request so that he could govern God’s people well and wisely. For Solomon, at least in the early stages of his kingship,  wisdom was the treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great price.

God was pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom and today’s Responsorial Psalm confirms the righteousness of his prayer.

“The law of your mouth,” it proclaims, “is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces . . .” and again . . . “. . . I love your commands more than gold, however fine.”

Yet, if we would be truly wise and understanding, our hearts – yours and mine –  must be set in one direction – towards Jesus, towards Christ, our Redeemer. St. Paul says of Christ that “in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). In the spiritual classic, “The Imitation of Christ,” it says that
“when you possess Christ you are a rich person, for he is sufficient for you,” and it adds, “until you are intimately united with Christ, you will never find your true rest.”

Also, in the Rule of St. Benedict we are told, “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” Perhaps I can add, that when I am alone with God in prayer, the words of Psalm 73 echo in my mind and heart: “What else have I in heaven but you? Apart from you I want nothing on earth” (25).

The Treasure Map

If somewhere in our hearts we acknowledge Christ to be the treasure beyond all price, then, let us ask how it is we obtain this treasure for ourselves. If you recall, the man who sought Forest Fenn’s treasure found clues in his writings, specifically in a poem that Fenn had penned many years earlier. Where, then, do we look for the treasure that is Christ and chart a course that leads us towards this hidden treasure?

Like that anonymous seeker of fortune who read and pondered Mr. Fenn’s poetry, you and I must read and ponder Holy Scripture; you and I must read and ponder the Word of God – if indeed we would find Christ. Most of us have one or more Bibles in our homes, but in far too many homes they sit on a shelf gathering dust. It’s like having a treasure map at home but perhaps not realizing what it is.

A wonderful Scripture scholar, Dr. Mary Healy, tells how, each day, she seeks and finds the Lord through the practice of lectio divina, literally, “divine reading,” a slow and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture, in which we listen to the voice of the Lord speaking to our hearts.

In the morning, she says, her mind is often filled with distractions and worries, so she immerses herself in God’s Word, allowing it to resonate in her heart. When we do this, perhaps reading just a few short passages and taking them to heart, we soon find that our hearts are opened as never before to Jesus.

As his heart speaks to our hearts, we soon learn where to find the hidden treasure … God’s Word embedded in human words; God’s Son hidden in the womb of Mary; the Lord of history shrouded on the gibbet of the Cross; the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ hidden in a speck of bread and wine; the love of Christ hidden in the mind and heart of an enemy. God hid the riches of his knowledge and love so that, in freedom and love, you and I could seek and find them, and he gave us his Word & the Church’s teaching as the map by which we do so.

The Grit

There is one more quality the anonymous seeker of fortune had that we should have, and it is this . . . perseverance and hard work coupled with a willingness to take risks.

It wasn’t enough for that fortune seeker to learn where to look for the treasure chest. To find it, he had to take time off work, spend his money and trek through the Rockies. In the Gospel, the one who found the treasure in the field sold all that he had, so that he could buy the field and claim the treasure as his own. The merchant who found the truly priceless pearl sold all that he had to buy it. In other words, the priceless treasure that is Christ does not just fall into our laps. We have to value his love above every other love. We have to look for the treasure of his love where he told us to look. But we also have dig for it, take risks for it, sacrifice for it.

Perhaps this has always been the most difficult feature of our faith, namely, that a desire for holiness and a desire for God are not enough. Rather, we need to hunger and thirst for holiness to such a degree that we orient our lives towards Christ and towards his truth and love.

From the beginning, Jesus warned us against becoming lukewarm and complacent. Half-hearted disciples simply won’t sacrifice to embrace and live the faith. Complacent disciples won’t make much of an effort to take part in Mass, to go to Confession, to read Scripture, to undergo conversion of mind and heart, or perhaps even to serve the needs of the poor or the cause of justice.

My friends, we can so easily find ourselves numbered among the complacent, as if we’re in a field where we know a treasure is buried but refuse to pick up a shovel! For example, people often complain that they don’t get much out of Mass.  Yet, the question has to be asked, how much did they put into the Mass themselves?  Did they prepare for it? Did they listen? Did they come with a prayerful attitude?  Did they do the hard work of putting aside everything else so as to place themselves in the presence of Christ and his people?

The Price Is Right

For some, alas, the price is too high . . . selling all one has to buy the field or to purchase the pearl . . . very expensive! Yet, as we ponder what the Lord is asking of us, we should also remember how expensive was the price that the Lord paid for our redemption. We are redeemed at the price of his precious blood. In the silence of our hearts, let us repeat again and again the words of St. Paul: “He loves me and he gave his life for me!” (Gal. 2:20)
And may the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.