1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
In 1934, American composer and lyricist Cole Porter penned these words:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes.
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today.
These days, I suppose it’s easy to get disillusioned and cynical by an "anything goes" attitude. We become anesthetized by infidelity, tragedy and terror. Another high school shooting, another downed passenger jet. For some it is a question of survival; we’d be paralyzed if we immersed ourselves in these heartbreaking realities; for the grief is overwhelming.
I reverence the words of Mohandas Ghandi: "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS."
Today’s readings remind us of the primacy of HOPE. Like faith and love, hope is a theological virtue, a supernatural reality. Hope is not wishful thinking; that’s optimism, and that (optimism) is blind to the jagged edges of time, and blind to the healing power of our pain. That’s "pie-in-the-sky" or what some call "low-level religion." In contrast, hope is grounded in reality, in wrestling with God, in the messiness of falling in love. It is why Pope Francis compares the Church to a field hospital.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God must be the priority for all his followers. The word "priority" means first, or superior. And philosophically, logically, practically…. You cannot have more than one priority, …or it’s not a priority. It may be important, it may be significant, even indispensable or essential, but not the priority. Jesus is uncompromising in these parables of a pearl or a treasure buried in a field.
But every choice is a renunciation. St. Thomas Aquinas said that and it helps explain why we struggle so painfully to make clear choices. We want the right things, but we want other things too. Every choice is a series of renunciations: If I marry one person, I cannot marry anyone else; if I live in one place, I cannot live anywhere else; if I choose a certain career, that excludes many other careers; if I have this, then I cannot have that. The list could go on indefinitely. To choose one thing is to renounce others. That’s the nature of choice. That’s the nature of a priority…no matter what our culture tries to tell you.
The world of advertising and entertainment and corporate finance tries to convince us that we can multi-task and have a series of "priorities." But life and love, beyond the abstract and beyond the grandiosity of our own daydreams, involve hard, painful renunciation. But it is precisely that very renunciation that helps us grow up and makes our lives real in a way that our daydreams don’t. And maybe "anything goes" doesn’t work so well after all.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.