17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020
The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value, he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.
It is a wonderful image to think that when we have encountered the kingdom of heaven – the working of God in creation – we have discovered a pearl of great price. Most Christians that I know have had this experience at one time or another. Sometimes we find it on our own and are able to value it. It leads us to make choices that we might not otherwise make. Sometimes it is others who help us to see the value of the pearl that we have found and who support us in “purchasing” that great pearl.
I often think of a group in Chicago who helped me to discover a “pearl of great price” and led me to make decisions I might not otherwise have made. It was a group known as SPRED – Special Religious Education for the Disabled. I was introduced to them by a mother who had three children in the program. She said they were looking for a Chaplain. There were nine adults in the group (one leader catechist and eight catechist/friends) and eight children who had various degrees of a mental and/or physical disability. The adult catechists would meet every other week without the children and every other week with the children. Each child had a catechist/friend. For six years as their chaplain I went to as many of the meetings as I could attend. I was taught continuously by them the value of this great pearl – seeing God work in the life of the disabled children. I was impressed with the generosity of the catechists as well as by their patience and their love for each individual child. It was obvious that they all had found the “pearl of great price”.
There was one particular evening when all of us saw this precious pearl gleam. The oldest boy in the group (around thirteen years old) refused to take Holy Communion whenever we had a Mass together. Both the catechists and the boy’s mother were convinced that he certainly was ready to make his First Holy Communion. They didn’t know what was holding him back. His mother thought that maybe at a home Mass in their home he would be willing to take the bread. She even had him help her bake the bread so that he would not be afraid of taking it. But he kept refusing. Then one night he chose to stand next to me around the table when we were celebrating the Eucharist. When the plate came around with the bread he took a piece. He knew what he was doing – he was making his First Holy Communion. As soon as the Mass was over he went over to give a big hug to his mother and the lead catechist and then gave a hug to all the catechists and the other children. The kingdom of heaven – God’s special love for these children -- this glowing pearl – was bright for everyone to see and enjoy that night.
This precious pearl we were able to share with a wider community a few years later. I was celebrating the 25th Anniversary of my ordination. I asked the children if they would mind bringing up the gifts at the offertory. They were delighted. And so they came up the aisle with their wheel chair and crutches, some giggling and some holding on to someone else in fear. I was told afterwards that there was not a dry eye in the Chapel as they came forward to bring the gifts and give me a hug. That afternoon many people saw this vision of the heavenly kingdom – God loving these children in a special way -- a pearl of great price -- they had never seen before.
We can be so enriched every time we find such a pearl of great price.