A Mountain of Treasure
Homily delivered to the Confirmandi of Blessed Trinity Parish, North York, Ontario. 2022
Deacon Doug McManaman
I just want to say that I really had a great time teaching you all this year. Of course, the two candidates that really stood out were ______ and ______. I do want to say how much I appreciated their thorough participation, raising their hands so often. I do want to extend my congratulations to all the parents for the good work that you have done, but I do have to offer a special congratulations to _______’s parents, because you certainly taught him the faith–I’m assuming it was you.
But it is always frustrating teaching a course like this because there is just so much more to do, so much more to cover, and there just isn’t the time. We barely scratched the surface, and all we were able to do is open a few doors for you and hope that you’ll walk through those doors into this inexhaustible treasure house that is ours. When I speak about the rich heritage that is ours in the Church, I often think of the movie The Hobbit, the scene where Bilbo finds himself in this massive cave of treasure, walking on a mountain of jewels, gold and silver coins, diamonds, and precious stones, etc.; the camera moves to a panoramic angle, and you see how tiny he is in this massive cave. Of course, there is a huge dragon underneath all that treasure that Bilbo slowly awakens. The scene is spectacular. The Catholic heritage that you were born into is like that cave, but so much more, and our hope is that you explore that limitless cave for the rest of your lives.
During the Winter and Spring, I teach adults, prospective Catholic teachers, at Niagara University, and the reflections I get from the students very often speak about the regret they feel that they had left the faith in their youth, that they allowed themselves to drift away, and they almost always point out that they had no idea how deep, meaningful, and beautiful the Catholic faith is. They seem to have come to the realization that it is so much larger than they thought, and they do genuinely feel regret for dismissing it.
Recently I met an elderly woman, close to 90 and who is in a nursing home, who said to me that the greatest blessing that she’s received in her life was the stroke she had that paralyzed her. She said that her biggest regret in life is that she’s spent most of it without thinking about God, without thanking God, living as if God does not exist. She said she had money, her husband had a very good job, she had a very good job, and they would often have dinner parties for their friends. But one day her husband asked her to go downstairs to the cellar and get some more soft drinks to bring up for the guests, and when she opened the fridge, she felt funny, and then fell to the floor. Her husband wondered what was taking her so long, so he sent a guest down to check on her. When he saw her on the floor, he called 911 immediately. She had a stroke. Her life would never be the same again, and lying there in a hospital bed, paralyzed and in despair, she thought to herself: my life is over. But she remembered the Our Father from her youth, and she started to pray that prayer for the first time in decades. She told me she suddenly felt a profound sense of peace come over her. And she just continued to pray that same prayer every day. And of course, all she could do at that point was develop her spiritual life, which she had neglected. And developing a spiritual life is very much like physiotherapy, which can take a long time to restore the strength to the injured part of the body. The spiritual life is like that, but she kept at it, and she is a woman of great faith and charity. Her husband died and now she is in a nursing home, not a very luxurious one I’ll tell you, but she says she’s happy. Joyful. And I see how much she brings to the lonely and suffering residents every day. She is a remarkable woman. But what struck me is that she told me she’s profoundly happy, but at the same time feels regret that most of her life was wasted on the pursuit of wealth and luxury. The stroke was her greatest blessing, because it was as a result of that stroke that she returned to God.
That’s sort of been the recurring theme in my life this year; I’ve met so many people who have discovered this boundless cave of treasure that they didn’t know was under their very noses, the spiritual, intellectual, philosophical, theological, literary, and artistic heritage of the 2000-year-old Church that Christ established.
One of these great treasures of the Church is Julian of Norwich, who was a great mystic who lived in the 14th century and died in the early 15th. And she says this about heaven. She writes:
Every man’s age will be known in heaven, and he will be rewarded for his voluntary service and for the time that he has served, and especially the age of those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God is fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked.
That’s such a great line: “…those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God are fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked.”
As you know, most people, the vast majority, do not offer their youth to God, and have not offered their youth to God. Most people usually keep their youth for themselves. Only much later on in life do they come to the realization that the things they’ve been pursuing in life are just empty bubbles with very little substance. So only a small minority offer their youth to God. We really hope that you will offer your youth to God, that you will hang on to the faith in which you have been baptized, that you survive your teenage years with your faith and morals intact.
It was easy to be a Catholic in the 1950s; everyone agreed with you if you were a Catholic who embraced Catholic principles. The problem is the 50s did not produce many heroes. But today, in 2022, it is not easy to be a Catholic at all. It is very difficult. If you don’t know that now through experience, you will when you enter university, because virtually everyone disagrees with you if you are a serious Catholic who lives and breathes the faith. And so, unlike the 50s, the early 21st century will produce many heroes, because if you do survive the next 10 years of your life with your faith intact, you are a hero. This is the age of Christian heroes. You’ll be up against some serious opposition: ridicule, cancel culture, and you’ll be made to feel like a hateful bigot for the views you hold. But if you survive those years with your faith intact, you will be especially rewarded in heaven and wonderfully thanked by God, as Julian of Norwich says.
In my 35 years of teaching, I will say this: the happiest students that I have every year are those who practice their faith, who live and breathe the faith, who study it, and who develop a strong spiritual life. These are the ones who exhibit the greatest mental and emotional health, who radiate a real spirit of joy and who have the strength to endure the sufferings and difficulties that life brings to each one of us.
So, I beg you to continue to pray, to grow in a love for the Eucharist, to take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) by going regularly, at least once a month, but more than that if you can, to develop a real devotion to Our blessed Mother, to pray the rosary. Stay close to God and give Him permission to do with you what He wants to do with you. If you give God permission to take over your life, to use you, to do with as He pleases, you are going to live a life that will be profoundly rich in meaning.