Heaven on earth!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, July 26, 2020:
Our Gospel today doesn’t pull any punches. It gets right to the heart of what our faith is all about and asks perhaps the most important question any believer could ever ask – What is the Kingdom of Heaven like? There are so many beautiful aspects to our faith – the community that uplifts and supports us, the beautiful devotions that direct and sustain us, the good deeds that allow us to make the world a better place – but all of the many things we do, all ultimately have the same goal – we are all working for Heaven. Eternal life is what Jesus came to inaugurate among us, and a worthiness for Heaven is why we do all of the many things that we do.
Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it’s like.
Today’s passages always reminds me of the first time I had the chance to be at a Papal Audience in Rome. It was almost 20 years ago with Saint Pope John Paul II. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.” I’ve never forgotten that quote. Heaven is not abstract; it isn’t a concept or an idea – it is a reality that we can be certain of; it is a reality we can have some experience of even here now on earth.
Heaven is one of Jesus’ favorite topics, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite phrase of ours too.
When we typically thing about Heaven we think in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, angels, harps, and all the rest! But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. In the last few weeks, Jesus has presented us with a farmer sowing seeds, wheat in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly – Heaven is not foreign, but it is familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”
So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. We experience a taste of heaven on earth in the community of the Church and in the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven to all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom” of Heaven. And in the Sacraments, we have a True and Real experience of God right before us – His Body and Blood on our altar, the grace of His forgiveness in Confession. In fact, the Sacraments could be defined as a taste of Heaven right here on earth.
Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased for you and me through the blood of Christ on the cross. Jesus is the one who has given up everything so that you and I might receive that reward for free.
Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we proclaim with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Heaven and earth are united in these moments. Our treasure, our precious pearl of the Church is something all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, "Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him – the heaven of our souls." My friends, allow Jesus to find the Heaven of your soul today; experience this taste of Heaven today; and always “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”
May the Lord give you peace!
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