Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Where Your Treasure Is...

A few days ago I was praying in the early morning, which is practically the only time I can easily enter into prayer. For me, the total silence and the candlelit darkness provide the best environment to listen to God. Well, despite the ideal external conditions, I found myself preoccupied with other things—the work and the difficulties I would meet during the day, etc—so I asked Our Lady about it. I have a large icon of Our Lady of Vladimir in my cell, and I dared to look into those penetrating eyes of hers and ask: “You were able to be recollected in the Lord; you could pray without a million things distracting you. What was your secret?”

I had hardly even finished the question when immediately this passage came into my mind: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Mary always leads us to her Son, so when I asked a question, she responded with her Son’s words.

Those words were both enlightenment and a mild motherly reproach. My “treasure” must have been somewhere else than with God at my distracted moments. She knew, of course, that in the absolute, ultimate, and consciously-willed sense, my treasure is indeed with God and the things of God, and therefore so is my heart. But to the extent that I allowed other concerns to eclipse my focus on God at the time of prayer, I had, in effect, placed higher value on them, and thus they became my (temporary) “treasure,” and so my mind and heart followed. They weren’t evil thoughts; just untimely ones and hence inappropriate ones for the precious moments set aside for speaking and listening to my God. Therefore they were an unworthy “treasure” to which I gave my attention.

These words of Christ apply not only to prayer but to the whole of our lives. When we make an examination of conscience, what we’re essentially doing is recognizing where our treasures, and hence our hearts, have been that day. And when we look back on our whole life, we see how what we have valued (that is, what our treasure was), has made us what we are (that is, where our hearts have been).

That is why Christian morality, for example, is not something that can be accepted or rejected piecemeal, as if we could—with any integrity—choose to follow certain precepts of Christ and the Church, and ignore others out of personal preference, changing trends, or peer pressure. If our treasure is Christ, our hearts will be with Him, and every word He has said will be gold and precious jewels to us. That is because we have made a Person our treasure, and not merely a list of precepts.

The distinction between grace and law is related to this. St. Paul was trying to tell his Jewish converts that salvation is not a matter or fulfilling those “works” by which one is constituted a Jew (and hence a member of God’s chosen people), but rather of embracing Someone in whom all the law and the prophets are fulfilled. “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, for God is one” (Romans 3:29-30). Jesus had the same difficulty in trying to enlighten the Pharisees, whose treasures were in observance of the minutiae of the law, but not in what would actually put their hearts in the right relationship with God: “…you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected…justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

The Lord is trying to show us that our treasure must be in God—with all that implies—and not merely in the fulfillment of legal prescriptions, even if these do have some value. Our treasure must be in God, because our hearts must be there too! Why can’t we be content with the legal prescriptions and mere externals of religion? Because our hearts are too big for that! They were made to be dwelling places of the Most Holy Trinity, and God will not rest until we open our hearts wide enough to receive Him!

So take an honest look at yourself, your life. Where is your treasure? Not just ideally, but in practical reality. Where do you focus the best of your time, energy, love, and desire? We can’t have our treasure and heart in unworthy things and then hope to switch them over to God on judgment day. We bring to the Throne the witness of our whole life. Open your eyes that you may see “the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7), the true and lasting wealth. May your treasure then be found in the secret chambers of the pierced heart of Christ, for He wants your heart to be forever united to his.