Friday, February 09, 2007

Recovering the Hidden Treasure

Two of my favorite parables are the ones about the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:44-46). They are very short but speak volumes about what is most important in life. I’ve commented on them before, so here I want to comment on something else in the light of them.

If we have chosen to follow Christ, it must be because we have in some way discovered the hidden treasure, happened upon the priceless pearl, and in our joy we have “sold all we had” to obtain it. That means we must have perceived Christ, his Kingdom, his promises, and his love to be worth more than anything the world can offer, and we have given our lives so that God’s holy will can be fully accomplished in us.

Yet the Church is faced with great crises today, not the least of which are the sexual scandals caused by those who are supposed to be most fully consecrated to God, who are supposed to minister in persona Christi to all those seeking the pearl of great price. Yet we must endure the reports of their grievous crimes, not only of molestations but of various sorts of unnatural vice and criminal activity. Lately in the news is a story of a priest who had recently bludgeoned one of his parishioners in the process of a sexual assault. He fled the state but was just apprehended. The media delight in serving up all the lurid details so that the Bride of Christ can be humiliated and discredited to the fullest extent.

How did things get to this point? Much has been said about all this, and I don’t want to reiterate the opinions of various analysts of the situation. I only want to say that whatever the reasons are, they are but symptoms of the loss of the Treasure, the loss of the Pearl. Whatever attracted them to Christ no longer attracts them; whatever motivated them to embrace a life of piety and humble service no longer motivates them. They have exchanged the true treasure for fool’s gold; they have thrown out the priceless pearl and purchased a plastic one in its place. They have gone after satan’s seductions and laid aside the Cross of Christ. As I have said before, to sin is to forget that Heaven is the source of our joy. And they have evidently forgotten.

They are, as it were, a kind of wound or disease in the Body of Christ. All possible remedies must be applied in order to heal them, to save their vocations and their souls, to restore them to their “first love,” their original vision of the Treasure and the Pearl. Genuine repentance must always be honored, for that is the teaching of the Gospel. But if all this fails, the scalpel must be pressed into service.

Yet to identify the Church with the sins of some of her higher-profile members is to present to the world a gross caricature of the Bride. True, the Body of Christ may be afflicted with wounds or diseases, but that does not identify or express the true essence of the Church. If I were to introduce myself to you, I would not say, “Hi, I’m Abbot Joseph; I have acid reflux and a cyst on my knee.” I would instead identify myself as a Catholic priest-monk, for that is essentially what I am. Various physical (or even spiritual) infirmities do not identify me, even though they may present real problems in my daily life. So the Church is essentially holy, consecrated to God and loved by Him, and her mission to preach and to sanctify has never changed. It is therefore wrong to say: “Oh, the Catholic Church; that’s the one with the gay priests and child molesters.” The Church should not be identified with her infirmities or aberrations—but she should make serious and decisive efforts to heal her wounds and rid herself of spiritual toxins.

It is no consolation for us to point out that other churches, other professions, have the same problems, even in higher percentages, for that does not excuse a single sin committed by a Catholic priest or bishop. It is the task of the Church to restore the lost vision, the forsaken dream, the pristine desire to respond to the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). When prayer and the sacraments and scriptures are set aside in favor of worldly pleasures and possessions, one loses the ability to distinguish between ersatz treasure and genuine. But if the Church is manifestly going to be what she essentially is, then her members and ministers must go on a Treasure hunt, must go in search of the finest Pearl, must cleanse their perception of any false notions of what is desirable, fulfilling, and worthwhile. And if they are not merely following the world, the flesh, and the devil, but are struggling with some interior disorder, then they must humbly submit to the necessary therapeutic remedies for body, mind, and spirit.

The rejection of evil and the embracing of good are not meant to be dreary or burdensome, even though they will necessarily require sacrifice and discipline. For when we do find the Treasure in the field—and finally recognize it as such—we will be like the man in the parable: in his joy, he sells all that he has and buys that field. For nothing is more precious, more important, more necessary for our life and our eternity, than to discover and embrace the Kingdom of God.