...DISCOVERING THE KINGDOM OF GOD - Priceless
The only way you wouldn’t know the tag-line for Mastercard would be if you haven’t turned your television on in the last 15 years. Since 1997 the motto “there are some things that Money cannot buy, for everything else there’s Mastercard” has been practically drilled into our brains with new commercials all based on the same simple but incredibly effective marketing technique. They itemize a list of things that people spend money on and present it under the umbrella of why people are spending this money, why the cost is worth it.
The creators did that intentionally. By the mid 90's when the economy was roaring along (remember those days) and people were spending in more and more extravagant ways, credit cards became more and more associated with greed, with excess. Which wasn’t attractive to the public. It wasn’t so unattractive that people changed their ways - but it was harder to “sell” or market credit cards in a positive light. So these advertising geniuses came up with this strategy that they called the “What Matters” umbrella. That there’s a valid, greater reason, some noble purpose, people need to spend this money, even if it is expensive, for something else that is - priceless. So an ad goes something like this “Tickets to Yankee Stadium $80; Souvenier T-shirt $25; Hot dog $8 - taking your son to his first baseball game - priceless.”
It has been so successful an advertising campaign that not only has it continued for over 14 years here in the US, it has spread to over 100 countries in over 40 different languages. It seems almost a universal understanding that there are some things that money can’t buy - that there are priceless things out there.
What are those priceless things for us? Pretty quickly we would probably rattle off the list of family, friends, our health. If we were to poll all of us here, no doubt we would add “our faith” to the list - perhaps out of obligation, perhaps because on some level we do believe that to be true. But it’s interesting to look at today’s Gospel and hear how Jesus is asking us, is it really?
Is He someone we see,
is what He is offering, namely eternal life, something we desire,
...are these Priceless to us? Are we willing to pay whatever the cost to achieve them?
A few weeks ago, this speaker I was listening to shared a story. A woman had been a religious education director in her parish for over 30 years. She had worked tirelessly in her parish preparing kids for First Communion, Confirmation, supervising all the other grades whether in CCD classes or in the Parish Elementary School - monitoring the books used, the tests given, attendance reports. After doing this for close to 25 years she said she had felt burnt out. She was busy, she was tired, she was working hard. But it seemed year after year was just flowing one year into another. There were lots of kids in CCD, few at Mass. The Parish School was getting smaller and fears that it would close were becoming more real. The parish itself seemed “stuck”. So she had gone to this conference sponsored by “Renewal Ministries” which is dedicated to helping Catholics have a deeper appreciation of the love that Jesus Christ has for them individually and once they’ve met Jesus in that way - once they recognize that, the response is people want to grow in holiness themselves.
After this weekend long conference, this religious ed professional had an earth-shattering realization. She told one of the main speakers whom she had been listening to all weekend, that after 25 years of service she didn’t believe that she had ever brought a single person into relationship with Jesus Christ.
Imagine that? There’s a part of us that wants to dismiss that saying she’s being hyper-critical of herself. But she was brutally honest saying the kids looked cute at their First Communion; the young men and women behaved appropriately at their Confirmations, and the class attendance sheets and religious ed books were all accounted for. But for her, when she heard the Gospel presented to her anew. When she heard the story afresh of how Jesus Christ has this personal, intimate love for her, that were she the only person to have ever lived in the whole world, he would still accept the Passion, the Cross, the Death for her – that’s how much God loves her - she realized that she and all of those with her in her parish had lost sight of what was essential in the faith and in the process had taken all these other beautiful, important things of our faith and in a sense made them empty.
She went back to her parish and with her Pastor and her Bishops approval, they simply asked over and over “Is Jesus Christ the Lord of my Life?” “Is he the Lord of this Classroom?” “This parish group?” “This school?” If He wasn’t, then they made Him such, or they got rid of it. Within 5 years the parish had been transformed. The school went from near closing to having a waiting list. The Parish was thriving in every way imaginable.
When we find the treasure - When we find the pearl of great price – When we truly believe what we say we believe and realize that nothing else compares to it... nothing else matters, even remotely in importance, then we start to see, experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of all those around us. That one woman felt convicted in her heart that Jesus wasn’t Lord of her life or her parish, so she made him it. She might have doubted she brought people to Christ before, but ever since, Jesus had changed her and many others lives.
I know personally how difficult that can be. For me these past 12 years of priesthood have gone quickly. And the ways that I’ve diminished Jesus Christ in thoughts, words, deeds, or lack of thought, word or deed, well those are reasons I find myself in confession so often. How often have I not spoken up to defend my faith because I was afraid “someone might be offended.” How many opportunities have I passed on an opportunity to be a witness to my faith because I worried how others might perceive me? In each of those opportunities, on some level, I said my ego, my fears, my whatever where more valuable than my faith in Jesus Christ.
I don’t want to keep doing that anymore - do you? And that’s the point - we have to want it - we have to have a change of vision recognizing that what Jesus is offering us is “What Matters” most. We have to realize that it’s not just going to cost us a little, it’s not something we can put on our Mastercard (or Visa or AMEX for that matter) - it’s going to cost us our reputations, our pride, our egos. It’s going to cost us friends and being comfortable. Yes it will cost us our whole lives. But in the end, we will find that discovering, and living in the kingdom of God is... priceless.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern