Matthew 13: 44-46 (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A)
Are you a Catholic because you want to be a Catholic or because you have to be a Catholic? Do you go to Mass on Sunday because you desire to or because you feel obligated to?
It makes all the difference when we follow Jesus because we want to rather than because we have to. Doing something because we desire to do it is a completely different experience than doing something because we feel obliged to do it. This principle applies in all areas of our life. If you watched the recent World Cup, you no doubt know Lionel Messi, (arguably!) the greatest soccer player in the world. Do you think that Messi became so good because he wanted to play soccer well or because others forced him to play well? Imagine if during Messi’s life, his father constantly pressured him to practice and train hard so that he could become a professional soccer player. Perhaps Messi would continue playing for a while, but this external pressure would only take him so far. Eventually he would give up. The reality is that Messi desired with all his heart to play soccer and become great at it. It was this desire that led him to willingly make sacrifices and train hard year after year. In the gospel, we heard Jesus explain that the kingdom of heaven - that is, following Jesus and his way - is like a treasure or a pearl that someone is willing to sacrifice everything to obtain. If we go to Mass, pray and follow the commandments because we feel we have to, because we feel obliged by rules or expectations from our family and friends, we will only go so far. Chances are, we’ll eventually just give up. We should follow Jesus because we want to. Following Jesus should be something that captures our imagination and leads us to desire it above all else. When Jesus becomes our greatest treasure we willingly make sacrifices to be close to Him. It makes all the difference when we follow Christ because we want to rather than because we feel we have to.
In order to renew our desire to follow Jesus, it is helpful to reconnect with its beauty. The key word here is beauty. Notice in the parable that Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure or a wonderful pearl, two beautiful things. Jesus Jesus does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a pair of old gym socks, taxes or broccoli. Beauty attracts us, it draws us out of ourselves. Encounters with beauty inspires us to makes changes in our life. This is something I experienced in my own life. I was raised in a Catholic family. Like many in my situation, I often went to Church because I felt my parents made me. As is so common, when I started to become an adult and no one pressured me to go, I started to have a lot of questions. Why should I go to Church? Was Jesus God? Is there even a God? During this confusing a difficult time, I had an experience that greatly affected me. One day I went to visit my grandmother who lives close by the ocean on the Sunshine Coast. It was already dark and I was walking along the beach towards her house. Suddenly I was struck by the beauty of what I saw around me. The water was so calm and peaceful. The moon, which was shining brightly in the clear sky, was reflecting upon the ocean. It is difficult to explain, but at that moment I was struck by the idea that all this beauty was created by a good God. More than this, I felt that this wonderful God wanted to have a relationship with me. This seemed like such a wonderful and beautiful thing! At that moment I greatly desired to have this relationship in my life and began searching to see how this could be possible. There is so much beauty in our faith. The beauty of Jesus’ life who died out of love to save us. The beauty of the holy lives of the saints. The beauty of being part of the Church, a family that transcends time and nationality. When we reconnect with this beauty, we renew - or perhaps enkindle for the first time - our desire to follow Jesus.
Our view towards Sunday Mass will tell us a lot about whether we follow Jesus because we want to or because we feel we have to. Sometimes going to Mass each Sunday is referred to as our “Sunday Duty”. True, going to Mass each Sunday is an important obligation and if we miss Mass on Sunday without a just reason it is a serious sin. Further, getting to Mass on Sunday can be difficult at times; people are busy and parking can be difficult to find! This said, we can often approach Sunday Mass as something we want to get done and out of the way so that we can get on with the rest of our day. Would we go to Mass if there was no rule forcing us? The YouCat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) has something very interesting to say on the issue of “Sunday duty”:
Actually, for a genuine Christian, “Sunday duty” is just as inappropriate an expression as “kiss duty” would be for someone who is truly in love. No one can have a living relationship with Christ without going to the place where he is waiting for us. Therefore, from ancient times the celebration of Mass has been the “heart of Sunday” and the most important appointment of the week. (YouCat 219)
If we really understand the beauty of what Mass is, we should want to go. We would desire to be with Jesus and receive Him in His word and His Body in the Eucharist. We would want to be strengthened by a community that is also trying to grow closer to God. How we view going to Mass on Sunday can tell us a lot about our desire to follow Jesus.
Are you here today because you want to be here or because you have to be here? Do you follow Jesus because you want to and or because you have to? If you are unable to answer a resounding “yes!”, stay calm. At times, it is normal for our desire to follow Christ to become cold. Take a moment today to rekindle your desire to follow Jesus by reminding yourself of one beautiful aspect of our faith that captivates and inspires you.