A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend from high school. He was sharing with me how a few of his wealthy friends had helped him make it through COVID 19. One of his wealthy friends had given him a contract to do some work shortly after he had lost his fulltime employment. Another friend had allowed him to live in a spare condominium that he owned. Still another friend had loaned him a car to get to work during the pandemic. Despite all of this assistance from others, this person still appeared to be worried and anxious about the future.
As I thought about this individual, and the way many of his wealthy friends had helped him out during the COVID 19 pandemic, this week’s reading about the hidden treasure and pearl of great value got me to thinking about some of the super-rich people who have helped me out during this pandemic. I thought today, I would tell you about some of my rich friends who have helped me out during this pandemic.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to the home of a man who works as a parish caretaker. Since he works for a local church, I am sure that he is not paid a great deal of money. This man and his wife have seven children. Every time I talk to this man, he is always happy. Despite having seven kids in these difficult times, he trusts in God. When I had dinner with him and his family, I could not believe all the love in this family home. I have been to other homes where all the young children do is fight. In this home, the older children all cared for and fed the younger ones and it was clear that they all cared for one another. After dinner, the seven children all played together and enjoyed one another’s company. This was one of the wealthiest homes I had ever visited. This was a home where the parents recognized that their treasure was their vocation to marriage and family. Their biggest priority in their lives was loving God and loving one another and caring for one another. Their prayer at grace that evening was that God bless them and give them the strength to serve Him as a loving family. Their treasure was the family that God had given them and they knew it.
Some of the other rich people I know are those with whom I share the rectory. When I talk to some people who share a duplex or house with other people, they tell me about how their neighbours are always fighting or playing loud music. My neighbours are happy all the time and if I hear anything from them it is the sound of them praying, enjoying the company of one another in community, or signing religious hymns. The people with who I share the rectory are the Sisters of Life. The Sisters own nothing other than their habits and prayer books. Despite this, they are some of the happiest people that I know. When I pass them in the hall and ask them how their day is going, they always answer: “Swell, thanks be to God.” Some people have told me that they think their happiness is an act. It is not. I live with them and all I hear all day long is the joy of the Lord. They are people who have found the pearl of great value in their vocation and have traded everything else for this treasure. Having given everything up for the Lord, He has filled them with the joy of His Spirit. From the other religious sisters that I know in this parish community—the Sisters of St. Joseph, The Faithful Companions of Jesus, The Franciscan Missionary Sisters and Sister Gabriel and The Precious Blood Missionaries—I am happy to say that this also appears to be a characteristic of them. However, as I only share the rectory with the Sisters of Life, I can only report accurately about them.
One of my other rich friends is a newly arrived immigrant to Canada who is single and works as a health care worker in one of the local hospitals. This individual works as a nurse and loves her job and patients with all her heart. Each day, she tries to figure out how she can get to Mass and still make it on time for her lengthy shifts. Her vocation is that of a single person who cares for others. Her treasure is doing it for the Lord. When I talk to her about the risk of being a caregiver during the pandemic, she says she must thank God every day for the gifts He has given her and the ability to help others. Serving God through others is what she has traded everything else to do. She is rich because of this.
One very wealthy couple I know have been married for more then sixty years. They are working class people. She is crippled with arthritis and is in pain every day. The husband is also struggling with health issues and finds it difficult to get around. When I brought them communion a few days ago, before the wife was to go for surgery, the husband was rubbing her legs to help relieve her pain. He was worried about her going to the hospital and it was obvious that even though they might need to raise their voices to be heard by the other, that each, because they had married in Christ, was the others treasure. They are two people who will be there for one another until God brings them to be together in heaven.
Another group of friends who have helped me immensely during this time of pandemic was those parish priests assigned to parishes who have served their parishioners faithfully. While many of the priests who were not assigned to parishes, seemed to be seeking the safety of family homes and cottages, those in the parish were standing by their communities and the people that they loved and served. So many of my brother pastors told me that they would never leave their parishes unattended and would remain to serve their communities no matter what. They witnessed to me that they had found their treasure in following the Lord and witnessing to His care as the Good Shepherd who remained with those He came to save. I know I, and many of my brother parish priests, were inspired by the great example of Cardinal Collins who stayed at the Cathedral and offered Mass every day for the diocese and all of us for whom he serves as shepherd.
It strikes me that the one thing that all of these people, whom I have described as my “rich friends,” have in common is that they have discovered their vocation and left everything for it. They have allowed it—their vocation—to order their lives. These people do not overly worry about money, or get anxious about the trials and tribulations of each day. They are concerned only about the Lord’s call to them and how they might respond to it. To follow God is their pearl of great value.
The exciting thing about a vocation is that every baptized person has one. Each person is called in baptism by the Lord and invited to know the wealth of the hidden treasure and pearl of great wealth that Christ’s invitation invites all of us to know. Our true wealth and happiness are to be found in embracing this gift of our vocation. The things that will cause us pain, anxiety and suffering are usually the false treasures that call us away from our vocation to follow the Lord. When we hear Christ’s call and follow, He sets us free to experience the treasure that a life lived in communion with Him offers to each of us.
During this time of COVID 19, I have found that those who have been the most upset, disturbed and anxious have been those who have been worried about false treasures and things that take them away from their relationship with Christ. When I myself have become anxious and worried, it has also been because I have turned my attention away from my vocation and my true treasure, and have been preoccupied with the financial concerns of the parish or my own safety and health. It has been the happy example of all my rich friends who are focused on the treasure of their vocation that has reminded me of the treasure of my own vocation and the happiness that I am called to find there in serving the Lord and the community I have been assigned to serve. All of the happy and joyful people I have encountered during this time have kept focus on the treasure of their vocation.
In this Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Kings, the Lord God appears to Solomon and offers to give him anything. Solomon could have asked for wealth, power or a long life. He asked simply for the gift of wisdom to do the work that the Lord has entrusted to him in his vocation as Israel’s king. This brought him true wealth.
The world wants us to believe that our happiness and fulfillment can be provided by accumulating things and earthy treasures. Our real and only wealth is to be found in hearing the Lord’s call to us and daring to follow. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Each Christian is called by the Lord to receive the true wealth of the life Christ has called us to enjoy. This is different for everyone. It may be found in marriage, the committed single life, a call to the religious life as a consecrated woman or man, or in the vocation to the priesthood.
It is important that we all know what our vocation is. If you are experiencing uneasiness or confusion in your life, perhaps it is because you have lost sight of what your vocation is and need to refocus on the treasure of your call. Ask yourself if your vocation to marriage, the single life, priesthood or call to religious life is still the focus of your life and desires. If it is not, ask for the grace to recommit and follow the Lord.
We should also be encouraging young people to think about a vocation. Young people should be asked how they will respond to God’s call to them. We should encourage people to enter into committed Christian marriages when they are ready and support them to face the challenges. Those who do not marry should be encouraged to live in the single state in a way that serves the Lord. Vocations to the religious life and the priesthood ought also to be encouraged. Invite young people to look at our vocation kiosk. There they can find contact information for a number of religious communities for men and women. In August, Fr. Matthew McCarthy will begin working as the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Toronto. Anyone thinking about a vocation to the diocesan priesthood will be warmly welcomed if they call him for information. Please feel free to call him at the Archdiocesan Vocations Office at the end of August at: 416-968-0997.
If you think about people who are really happy and at peace throughout all of life’s challenges, they are probably people who have found their treasure is in the Lord and following him. Those who are sometimes the least happy and the most troubled, may at times have great earthly wealth, but they know it will not last. During these days of COVID 19, let us pray with the wisdom of Solomon, for the gifts that will allow us to embrace the pearl of great value that the Lord wishes to give to each one of us in living faithfully our vocations.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto.
This reflection is based on the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year
A: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; and Matthew 13: 44-52.