Sunday Sermon for July 17, 2011, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: 1Ki 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

In the second reading St. Paul says that all things work together for good for those who believe. There are three points in this that we must consider. First of all he says that all things, not some or even most, but all things work together for good. The reason for this is because God is in control of all things and, in His loving providence, He wills only that which is truly the best for us, even if it is exceedingly painful, distasteful, or unwanted.

Secondly, St. Paul says that all things work together for good. This good could be construed in many ways. For instance, there is wisdom that comes from experience; there is virtue that grows in the midst of hardships and trials; there is self-knowledge as we see how weak and pathetic we really are. But most importantly, the greatest good is the salvation of our souls. The Lord certainly brings about these various secondary and tertiary goods, but what He is most interested in is getting us to Heaven.

The third point is that this good is worked in those who believe. We all know people who become bitter or despair in the midst of trials. We also know people who grow through them and become more holy. If one does not have faith, the point of reference for making sense of the events of our lives is missing. Without God, the only point of reference is the self. We all know that when the focus is on the self the only things considered good are the ones we choose because they provide us with the optimal amount of pleasure, excitement, fun, money, power, etc. A selfish person is not able to see the good in the many things God brings into his life because He does not know God and has no desire to draw near to Him or conform the self to Him.

This brings us to the next important point in St. Paul: we were called according to His purpose: called, justified, and glorified. Why? St. Paul says it is so that we may be conformed to the image of God’s Son. To be conformed to God’s Son by sharing in His glory requires that we must also be conformed to the Son of God in His Passion. This is where people, even people of faith, tend to walk away from the Lord. God brings them everything they need to be conformed to Christ on earth so that they will be prepared to be conformed to Christ is glory. Somehow we seem to think that we can share in the glory without sharing in the Cross. Jesus makes it plain that this is not the case.

If we want to be conformed to Christ, we need to start with the conformity of our minds. Consider the first reading where we hear about Solomon asking God for an understanding heart so that he could judge between right and wrong. We too need to pray for this kind of understanding so that we can have the insight to recognize God working in the midst of our daily lives.

However, an understanding heart goes further than just seeing Him working in our lives; an understanding heart allows us to recognize what is truly good and what is not. This is what our Lord tells us in the Gospel where the net collects many things which are separated into groups of good and bad. The greatest good in the universe is God. Do we have the insight to recognize this truth? By this I do not mean recognizing the objective, theoretical truth, but, rather, the question is whether or not we make God the greatest good in our lives.

In the first two parables in today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about someone searching for a treasure or a pearl of great price. Once they find what they are looking for they sell everything they own and purchase the treasure. If we have recognized the hidden treasure of Jesus Christ, then we have made Him and being with Him for eternity the top priorities in our lives. If we have only acknowledged the objective truth, then we believe in Him but He makes little impact on ours lives because we are not willing to allow Him to have any significant influence over us.

If He is merely an objective truth, then we keep Him at an arm’s distance. If He is a subjective reality for us, then we want to know, love and serve Him. This is real wisdom and understanding; it is also eternal life. Remove anything that has been made into a greater treasure than Jesus, put God first in your life, gain real wisdom from on high, and see how everything works for good for those who believe.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit