This weekend, I’ve been given the opportunity to preach at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, NJ. For the readings of the day, you can go to the USCCB website found here. May God bless you on this 17th Sunday of Ordinary time.
Imagine for a second that you were in Solomon’s place. God appears to you in a dream and says “Ask for anything. I’ll give it to you.” Anything. Blank check. Anything you can possibly imagine. What would you ask for? In some ways, it’s kind of a silly hypothetical question, a cheesy get-to-know-you game question like, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” On the other hand, it may actually be the most important question you ever ask yourself. Why? Because it reveals what is at the deepest depth of your heart. Instead of thinking about it as some wish from a genie, ask yourself: “At the absolute core of who I am, what is it that is most dear and true to my heart, the thing that I desire with all of my being?” It may be something that you already have that you want to keep or something you don’t have that you want to get. It can be physical or mental, social or spiritual; it can be real or imaginary, plausible or impossible. What is it that you desire most, and what does that say about you?
In Solomon’s case, his greatest desire revealed his humility, compassion, and above all, his great love for God. Of all the things that his imagination could possibly conjure up, all that he requested from God was an “understanding heart.” I mean, come on! He could have asked for anything: power, money, fame, immortality. Like so many kings of his time, he could have tried to rule the whole world, put his face on money, or at the very least had a theme park named after him. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask anything for himself at all. What he asked for was the skills to love God’s people better, in essence, to be able to give more of himself. How much more revealing of a virtuous character do you get? At the core of Solomon’s heart was love for God and his people, and nothing more.
So what about you? Does your desire stack up to Solomon’s? What does that say about you? I admit, it’s a really difficult question. It forces us to look deep inside ourselves, to potentially see what we’re not always proud of. It requires us to see our potential faults and shortcomings, our insecurities and vulnerabilities. Our natural impulse will be to deny what we see, to blame it on others, or to just not care. Instead, we prefer to stay on the surface, to talk about the weather or what was on TV last night, to go through life hiding from ourselves, remaining unchallenged. I think, if you’re willing to open to yourself, to see the person that God sees, you’re right, you may not like what you see. But how can we ever be called to conversion if we never know what needs to be converted?
When I’m honest with myself, I see that there are some desires deep inside me that I wish weren’t there. I care very much about what people think about me, and desire to be liked by everyone. Even though I know God loves me and that should be good enough, I still want everyone else’s approval. Can anyone relate to that? If not, I’m sure that there are plenty here that have a deep desire to always have more. So many people waste their entire day worried about making money and their entire night worried about keeping it. What other things do we desire but don’t want to admit? I imagine we could go down each row and find desire after desire that doesn’t match Solomon’s: power, fame, intelligence, leisure, control, security, affection.
But that’s okay. It’s who you are right now, and whether good or bad, I think that knowing what we truly desire, the thing we love above all else, is the most important thing we could ever know about ourselves. Really. Like Solomon, our desires reveal who we are and who we want to be before God. They reveal what motivates us, and ultimately, how we’re going to act. There’s a prayer by the late Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe, S.J. that captures this perfectly. It goes:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
Such words of wisdom, and from a Jesuit no less! Whatever it is that we desire above all will have a hand in everything we do. It guides us and informs our decisions. Sometimes, it even makes us do radical things. When we find that buried treasure in the field or the pearl of great price, that thing that we most desire, we are able to give up absolutely everything we have, our time, our skills, and our money, just to get it.
Look at your own life. Look at what gets you up in the morning; what keeps you up at night; what makes you laugh; what makes you cry. What is the buried treasure that you spend your whole life seeking? Is it money, or is it Jesus? Is it personal glory, or is it the glory of the kingdom? Is it power over others, or is it the desire to be faithful to our God?
In many ways, we know that there will always be competing desires in us. We seek God, but sometimes, we seek other things as well. While I’d like to say that Jesus is my only desire, I know that my actions don’t always say so. When I honestly look inside myself, when I honestly look at how I spend my time, I know that I am in need of further conversion. We all are. The real question is, when push comes to shove, which desire is going to win out: Jesus or the world?
Our Church is witness to so many inspirational people that have made Jesus their ultimate desire. Of particular importance today, we remember all of those who have gone on mission through the Franciscan Missionary Union. Through this organization, men and women have been led to serve the lowest and most forgotten people of society, people who would otherwise never be loved or cared for; they have built schools and universities all around the world, spreading not only knowledge, but wisdom to people who need it most. They have loved without boarders, given of themselves without restraint. Why? Because Jesus is their greatest desire. Our second collection today will be an opportunity to support those who have supported so many in this world.
For me, it is actually my need for conversion, not any perceived holiness or perfection, that has led me to this life as a friar. I know that I am a sinner and that I fall short. Being a friar isn’t about being perfect or having no worldly desires: it’s about recognizing how much we need Jesus in our lives, even if we forget it sometimes. Jesus is my pearl of great price, and even though I get distracted by other things at times, I know that I want to give up everything I have in this world to buy it. Because we take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, some point out that there are a lot of things we cannot do. True, we cannot get married, become rich, or chase prestigious careers. But look at all the things we can do: we are free to move where we’re needed, to love without restraint. We live a life centered in prayer, poverty, and humility, and the best part about it is that we don’t have to do it alone: we always have our brothers. If you ask me, there is no greater treasure in the world than what I’ve found.
And so I ask again, what is your deepest desire, your pearl of great price? Have you found it yet, or are you still searching? My prayer for you today is that you may know with all of your heart what is truly important in this world, that Jesus is the only treasure worth seeking. I pray that when you find him, you may have the courage to give up everything you have to be with him.