Jul 30, 2017

Buy 1 Get Everything Free

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

It might surprise many to learn that the Scriptures were not written so that they would be printed, bound and put into the book form that so many of us are now familiar with. The inspired authors first wrote their words down so that they could be read out loud and be listened to - like an audio book!

Of course, the majority of people who first encountered the sacred writings could not themselves read or write. But, for the most of them, there was nothing wrong with their hearing!

They listened and reflected on what they heard, took their time to reflect and sought to understand what they heard. For this reason, the ancients were very used to memorizing large sections of passages, and would often tell and retell a portion of Scripture, a parable, a letter from one for the apostles, again and again.  After all, it didn’t cost anything to repeat from memory a story you had heard and so pass on the details in an oral tradition.

So, in the early Church, the many disciples recalled the Holy Scriptures not as a simple means of replicating them, as if they were human printing presses. Even when the Sacred text was available to them first hand, it was not studied in the modern sense of a Bible Study. Instead, portions of Scripture were used for meditation and prayer and always within the context of developing one’s relationship with Christ. For example, an ancient Christian writer, Origen of Alexandria, who died in 254 AD reflecting on the Gospel for today, likens the search for hidden treasure in a field, to exploring the whole bible in order to findthe hidden Christ within all its pages. And when you find Christ himself, he is not a chapter and a verse. You cannot just simply copy, cut and paste him from one place to another or lift him out from his surroundings. You have to buy the whole field – he comes with everything.

That is why the best word to describe the big picture of our relationship with Christ is “catholic”. The word “catholic” describes “everything, everywhere, things in relationship to other things, nothing in isolation, nothing unrelated – it’s big, universal, touches everything, wonderfully messy but it’s all together”. To claim the pearl of great price hidden in the soil, we do not dig it up and slip it into our pocket and say “mine”. We buy the whole garden. The we invite everyone into it, uncover the treasure with much excitement and declare it, not to be “my treasure”, but “ours” - it is a “commonwealth”. That’s the “catholic” way- that is our Catholic culture.

Even that word “culture” - its various uses are associated with making the land ready to bear fruit. This is “agriculture”. We “cultivate” the earth. As Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, our heavenly Father, cultivates our soul, so that the whole vineyard bears fruit, fruit that will last, an abundance for everyone. Every one of us bears fruit in our Christian life only insofar as each of us remains attached to Christ the true vine. Our value and worth is always associated with Christ, the pearl of great price.

What started off as a small investment in land to secure this Pearl of Great Price, throughout the centuries our Catholic Culture has influenced the big picture of the world, not just in the areas of theology but also in philosophy, law, art and music, health care and education. The spirit of the soul of our soil, has never been “me” or “mine”. It has always been “ours”. The Church is not a denomination. It is a great culture within which everyone is invited to leave behind their own individualistic agendas and join a commonwealth of plentiful grace for the salvation of the whole world.

May we never fail to embrace the big picture of our Catholic faith and culture in such a way that within and throughout the vastness of the Church’s history and the wealth of her experience we may rediscover the true value of this family treasure we hold, the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ, the Word of God who lives and reigns forever!

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