As children, we all heard stories of pirates in search of buried treasure. They always had a map, and “X” always marked the spot. The excitement of the adventure captured our imagination: along with the pirates, the Goonies, or whoever happened to be searching for the treasure, we felt the thrill of chasing after riches we did not yet have but sorely desired.
Notice, however, that we were never told much about what happened after the pirates found their treasure. Apparently, it wouldn’t be very exciting to read a story or watch a movie about someone enjoying a bunch of precious metals and sparkling gems. Even though all the pirates’ effort (and all our interest) was directed toward the acquisition of the treasure, it seems that its actual possession didn’t amount to a story worth telling.
And so we might ask ourselves: what is it that we pursue? And is it really worth the time and effort? What is our “buried treasure”? What’s the thing we most hope to acquire, the thing that we treasure above all else? I don’t mean merely what we think we treasure or what we hope to treasure. Rather, when we take a look at the concrete actions of our lives—something that this holy season of Lent gives us the opportunity to do—what is it that we really desire? What is it that we spend our time in pursuit of?
Do we, like the pirates, simply relish the thrill of the chase? Are we filling our lives with fleeting pleasures? Or are we actually pursuing an end that is worthwhile, a goal that’s worth writing a story about?
As we travel through these Forty Days, we prepare to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ has died to conquer sin and death and to save the world from corruption. Unlike the story of the pirates and their treasure, the story of mankind’s redemption has an end that’s worth writing about. As a matter of fact, not only the writers of the New Testament, but countless authors over the past two thousand years have been writing about the end of this story.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture is from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Because Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins, we know that he can transform our hearts and make them pure. We can gauge the actual, imperfect state of our heart by taking a look at what we love, at what we treasure most. In this way, our heart can tell us the end of our story because our story, like the story of the pirates, is determined by what we are seeking, by our goal.
Are we just kinder and gentler pirates, seeking wealth as our final end? Do we ultimately want fame or glory? Or the honor accorded by others? Perhaps it is power, so that we can set things right in the world. Or maybe it’s physical fitness and beauty. It might be that we spend most of our time pursuing pleasure, in one form or another. Or maybe our deepest desire is a very laudable one: to become the best and most virtuous person we can be.
Of course, all of these may be good things to pursue in the proper circumstances and with the right intention, but none of them can be our ultimate good; in the end, none of them will satisfy our deepest desire. (For more on this, consult the Angelic Doctor himself.) God has created us in such a way that he alone can fully satisfy us. By nature we love what is good, and he is Goodness Itself. It is to set our hearts ever more on God himself and to free us from our inordinate attachments to earthly goods that the Church exhorts us to fast, pray, and give alms during these forty days of Lent.
When our hearts are made pure, when they desire what is truly good—and this can only happen through the transforming and saving love of Jesus Christ—what is the end result? According to the aforementioned beatitude, we shall see God. God will be our treasure. We know that this treasure can indeed be found because we have come to believe in Christ’s saving passion, death, and resurrection. We also know that, when we find it, the story will not come to an end, as it did for the pirates. Rather, the story will go on forever, for we will rest in the possession of something worth infinitely more than all the treasure we could ever find on earth: the blessed vision of God in the light of eternal glory.
Image: Howard Pyle, Blackbeard Buries His Treasure