Treasure – Dcn. Ken Billinger

Dcn. Ken Billinger’s Homily July 25, 2020

“For the past fifteen years I’ve had the honor of doing prison ministry and today I just wanna share a story about one particular inmate. There’s many stories to share, but I wanna talk about this particular inmate named Ryan (that’s the name that I’m giving him today). When I first met Ryan we came in to do prison ministry and we generally come in and greet the guys. We usually have a dozen to fifteen guys and we do what’s called a bread of life service and then we also offer the Eucharist to Catholic inmates. In that time we also read the Gospel and talked about the Gospel, but I noticed Ryan. It was one of the things that I looked at when he sat down. He sat very quietly. He had a brand new Bible on his lap, hadn’t been touched. It’s a paperback Bible which we give out to the inmates if they choose and he sat quietly, but I knew there was something going on with Ryan. Ryan seemed a little bit angry with the world, but fast forward about five to six months later as we went back. Now we don’t see the inmates that often because of the rotation of volunteers and the rotation of the inmates. There’s a lot of pods to cover, but here was Ryan five or six months later and what I observed was a totally transformed young man. The Bible which he had on his lap originally was no longer in perfect shape. The pages, the cover was dog eared the pages were marked up and he had been using the Bible very faithfully and so I asked the guys to share if there was anything on their heart that particular day and Ryan raises his hand much like a first grader who’s just back to school from summer vacation wanting to share the story of their summer and Ryan said, ‘Yeah I want to share something. I was invited to come to this six months ago by a group of guys. I didn’t know who Jesus was. I’d never opened a Bible in my life, but in this time I found a treasure. My life’s been transformed.’ He said, ‘I want to tell you something else. I was a guy who would fight at the drop of a hat, but two weeks ago a guy approached me and was trying to get me to fight and I walked away.’ And I said ‘Wow, how did that make you feel?’ He said, ‘I felt empowered.’ That was kind of a big word to hear from someone or just a powerful word. I felt empowered. He found that treasure and in Matthew’s Gospel we’ve noticed over the last three weeks the unity of the Gospels the last three Sundays all talking about parables and parables are not meant to obscure us or confuse us. In fact, parables are as much about hiding the truth as revealing it. The parables are intended to invite us deeper into meditation, challenge us to draw closer to God, so when Jesus talks about hiding through the parables he doesn’t mean that in a way that he doesn’t want people to know. They’re open to those who earnestly seek it. They’re hidden to those who are too prideful to open their hearts to it and it’s revealed to us if our motives are right. The parables are intended to rattle our cage just a little bit to transform us. This parable talks about selling all to buy this great pearl, taking every bit of it and using it to purchase this very unique and priceless gift. When we look at our lives we may not have to sell everything to get a gift, but what we have to do is rid ourselves of the things that maybe take our focus off Christ. Those are the things we need to rid ourselves of. The beautiful thing about this is this gift is free. It’s free to us, costing us absolutely nothing yet do we take a hold of it? The price was paid by Christ in his death on a cross and the other beautiful gift that is given to us that we will receive in just a few minutes at this Mass is the gift of the Eucharist given to us at no cost and like the inmate Ryan who found his treasure we can choose to accept this great pearl at no cost to us or we can walk away from this incredible treasure that we have, but it’s really interesting there’s a really interesting paradox here: this gift is free for the taking, yet if we choose not to take it it could cost us everything. Think about that for a moment. This gift is free for the taking, but it could cost us everything. It could cost us our eternity with God in Heaven.”