The 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that there are two kinds of people in this world: people who think there are two kinds of people in this world, and people who do not think there are two kinds of people in this world.
This somewhat nerdy joke pokes fun at the idea that we can divide the world into just a few neat categories. And yet, Pascal more seriously said that there are really three kinds of people in the world:
- those who have sought God and have found Him — these are reasonable and happy;
- those who have sought God but not found Him — these are reasonable but unhappy;
- and those who neither seek God nor find Him — and these are both unreasonable and unhappy.
We need to look here at why it is reasonable to seek God, and why happiness is the consequence of finding Him. These questions are all the more urgent during a year that has posed stiff challenges for all of us, including the COVID-19 crisis and much social unrest.
In order to address these questions, we must consider the gifts of wisdom and prudence. Wisdom and prudence are two of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which all of us receive, especially in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Prudence is also one of the cardinal (or “hinge”) virtues, and a virtue is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (par. 1803). Wisdom helps us to know what is true and good, and prudence helps us to act according to what we know in wisdom.
Taken together, they help us understand what Solomon asks the Lord to give him in this Sunday’s first reading (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12): “Give your servant,” he says, “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”
It is remarkable that of all the things he could have asked for, gifts that could have enriched or glorified Solomon himself, he instead asks for a gift that will help him serve God and others. This in itself shows that Solomon already has some degree of wisdom, because he has set his heart on what is truly best — not on what is evil, not even merely on what is good, but on what is truly the best.
Different things hold us back from selling everything to obtain the treasure or the pearl of great price. We might be tempted to cling to our financial resources, our reputation, our security, our “comfort zone,” our worries, our sense of self-sufficiency, some addiction, or any number of attachments that keep us from going “all-in” for Jesus.
Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52) challenges us to be prudent in this way — to set our hearts completely on what is best: the kingdom of heaven. Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as being like a treasure buried in a field and like a pearl of great price. But Jesus goes further than saying that the treasure or the pearl are good things. Rather, He says that they are the best things, worthy of exclusive dedication, when He says in each case that the person who discovers them “sells all that he has” in order to buy them.
God’s kingdom is so precious because obtaining it is the key to perfect happiness, a happiness that only begins in this life but lasts forever in heaven. And it is because God’s kingdom is so precious that it is worthy of our total and exclusive dedication. This is why we can say with Pascal that the person who seeks God’s kingdom in this way is both reasonable and happy.
In my own life, this lesson has been decisively important. I can remember very clearly a moment a couple of years before I started thinking seriously about the seminary, at a time when I was not as devoted to my Catholic faith as I should have been, being struck by the insight that if I really believed what I said I believed every Sunday at Mass, it had to make more of a difference in my life. I could no longer hide from the truth that God deserved my total dedication. This moment was the beginning of an experience many have called a “reversion,” a turning back to the Catholic faith with the commitment our faith deserves.
Each of us is called to live according to this truth, and each of us will be tempted to betray this truth in different ways. Different things hold us back from selling everything to obtain the treasure or the pearl of great price. We might be tempted to cling to our financial resources, our reputation, our security, our “comfort zone,” our worries, our sense of self-sufficiency, some addiction, or any number of attachments that keep us from going “all-in” for Jesus.
Fortunately, we are not left on our own in this struggle! Jesus has already gone “all-in” for us by dying for us, and in His rising from the dead we always have the hope of new life. He gives us the Gift of His life in the Holy Eucharist.
And again, wisdom and prudence are gifts of the Holy Spirit. So also is the courage, or fortitude (we might say “guts”), we need to give our whole lives over to the Lord without holding back. And so we should pray to the Holy Spirit frequently to give us these gifts, so that we can see clearly that we need to turn away from all that is ungodly, “sell everything” that might weaken our commitment, and dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the kingdom of heaven.
Not only will going “all-in” for Jesus help us to thrive on earth and live forever in heaven, but it will also be the most powerful good example we can offer to our family, friends, and everyone who sees that we love the Lord enough to sacrifice everything else for Him. It might even lead some of them to do the same!
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.