A Pearl of Great Price
“You have forgotten God, who gave you birth.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:18
Perhaps coincidental, perhaps not, but it was today’s Responsorial Psalm, the words which kick-off today’s reflection, that really grabbed my attention at Mass this morning. I say coincidental for I would go on to learn later in the day that it was Pope Saint Celestine I, the man whose Feast Day we celebrate today, that introduced the Responsorial Psalm to the celebration of the Liturgy. This was but one of his lasting contributions to the Church he loved as made manifest by way of his life and the nine years he served as Pope.
Born in Campania, Italy, Celestine was a Roman deacon who was elected Supreme Pontiff in the year 422 A.D. He was said to have been a contemporary and good friend of St. Augustine and for a short time lived in Milan with Saint Augustine’s mentor, Saint Ambrose. As Pope, Saint Celestine I lead the Church for what would be 9 stormy and tumultuous years, during a time of much social discord and upheaval. Heresies were running rampant throughout the Church, confusing and corrupting the faithful. Celestine fought these heresies with great fervor and fortitude, and for this reason he is known as a legendary defender of Orthodox Christian Doctrine. He is oftentimes depicted alongside a dove and a dragon due to his unique ability to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit with ferocity in the face of resistance and downright hatred.
Outside the Church, bloodthirsty barbarian hordes were invading the West, culminating in the collapse of the Roman Empire. Pope St. Celestine I worked to restore the churches that were attacked when Alaric the Goth sacked Rome. He also established the papal diplomatic service to send ambassadors, known as “nuncios,” from the Vatican to other governments around the world. Pope Celestine I would also go on to appoint Saint Patrick to evangelize Ireland, and as previously mentioned, is memorialized and remembered at the celebration of every Mass by virtue of his introduction of the Responsorial Psalm into the Liturgy of the Word in Rome sometime around the year 425 A.D. He died on this day in Rome in the year 432 A.D.
Have we forgotten God? Today's Gospel (Matthew 13:31-35), Sunday’s too (Matthew 13:44-52) remind us of that which should forever and always be on our mind. The one thing that, in the end, is all that truly matters: The pursuit of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In these Gospels, which those of you who pray the Rosary no doubt reflect upon every Thursday during the 3rd decade of the Luminous Mysteries, Jesus uses parables likening the Kingdom of Heaven to, among other things, “a merchant searching for fine pearls.“ (Matthew 13:44). Jesus goes on to explain that “when he (the merchant) finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it..” In poker parlance, the merchant goes “all in” for Heaven. Upon discovering something far more beautiful than he could have imagined (1 Corinthians 2:9), the merchant commits himself fully and wholeheartedly to obtaining that one breathtaking pearl, relinquishing everything else so that he can buy it.
Sadly it would seem, what with the rampant materialism and widespread avarice that prevails today, many are going all-in on everything but Heaven. Castles and Kingdoms are being built, and “treasures being stored up on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.“ (Matthew 6:19). Saint Anthony of Padua once said “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.“
In our world today we have “FOMO,” a fairly clever Madison Avenue creation conjured up to play off of the average consumer’s “fear of missing out.” Many fear losing an argument on Social Media, oftentimes with a total stranger, over discussions ranging from politics to religion to who’s the greatest quarterback or centerfielder of all time. Yet others fear that they will be overlooked for a promotion or that their neighbor might have a more luxurious car. We fear that we will be disliked by people whose opinion of us are, for the most part irrelevant. Most recently we have come to ruminate incessantly and fear a virus with a 99.6% survival. But do we fear the prospect of going to hell? How often do we even reflect on our eternal fate? Whenever we embark on a long journey, we contemplate and discuss our final destination. Why is it then that we rarely if ever reflect upon our destination after we draw our last breath in this, the proverbial “trip of a lifetime?”
Very few things in this earthly life are absolutely certain. The most undebatable of these, by far, is death. Every man, every woman ~ even the atheist ~ will admit this much: death is certain. Right after death, we shall be judged. Our personal or “particular” judgement will be repeated on the Day of Judgement when all will know us for what we are.
Death, judgement, Heaven and hell. Known to Catholics as “the four last things.” We move towards these four things with each and every passing hour of the day and night. We must keep this eternal goal before us constantly, for in doing so we will think straight when faced with adversity, problems, challenges and difficulties. We must strive to become “eternity-minded.” We must go all-in for that pearl of great price. Saint Peter Chrysologus asks an excellent question when he says “Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were created?” The answer to this question of course is that we were created for the Beatific Vision. Heaven for all of eternity with the Blessed Trinity ~ the God from Whom we come and to Whom we are called to return.
As Robert Cardinal Sarah, a great modern-day warrior of Christian Orthodoxy the likes of whom Saint Pope Celestine I would be most proud, has been known to say “a process of self-destruction is always reversible. But time is short.“ May we all possess the wisdom to forgo the fleeting trifles of this world and instead yearn for and pursue the pearl of great price, eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Lord, I confess I don’t often long for heaven. I’m a creature of this world and crave worldly things, not heavenly ones. I ask you would grow a desire in me for heaven. Help me not be satisfied with the things of this world, but long for closeness with you and the perfection of eternity in your presence. Lord, thank you for the hope of heaven and the joy we will have when we get there.” ~ Amen
Saint Pope Celestine I, pray and intercede for us....