“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)
I first felt a bit of a call to the priesthood when I was a sophomore in college.
As I began to think more and more about a possible vocation to the priesthood, for whatever reason my focus was on everything that would be sacrificed. I thought about everything that I felt I would be missing out on in life if I said yes to God. In particular, sex and money were on my mind.
I didn’t know much about the priesthood, but I did know that to be a Roman Catholic priest involved celibacy and a life of simplicity. I knew that Roman Catholic priests were neither married nor paid much. When I thought about being a priest, my focus was on everything that I would miss out on, my focus was on everything that would be sacrificed.
Yet all of that changed my Junior year. When I was a Junior in college I went on a mission trip to New York City. I, along with some other students, drove to the Bronx where we stayed with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal for roughly one week. When we arrived in the South Bronx we met Franciscan Friars who lived simple lives of work and prayer. They were poor men living in a poor neighborhood. They possessed little to nothing, wearing gray religious habits and sandals on their feet. Their friary was bare bones, expressing asceticism at its finest.
I saw men who were healthy, who had great senses of humor, who loved coffee, and had a kind of light in their eyes (maybe from all the caffeine). As I stayed with the friars, shared meals with them, and prayed with them, I encountered some of the happiest men that I had ever met. They had nothing, they had sacrificed everything, but they were at peace, and they had a sense of joy that I hadn’t ever seen in other people. What these friars helped me to see was that I could give up everything, but what I would gain in return was infinitely more valuable.
These two parables of the kingdom of heaven always remind me of that mission trip that I went on when I was in college. What the Franciscan Friars “sold” was far less valuable than what they “bought.” In the Gospel of Luke the apostles Peter, James, and John, are described as leaving everything in order to follow Jesus. What they left behind was valuable but what they gained was priceless. To follow Christ involves sacrifice and suffering, there is no doubt about that.
If you’re like me, then sometimes you focus so much on what is sacrificed that you lose sight of what is gained in return. As Jesus continually invites us to follow him, he reminds us in this parable not to focus so much on what is lost, but to see the beauty and infinite value of what is gained.