Give a boy a patch of back yard to play in, and you’ll soon have some interesting critters on the kitchen table. Give him a few empty lots with a fence that fronts the Australian Outback, and there’s no telling what he’ll find. For twelve-year-old Roy Spencer, the day could have brought home a bird’s nest, a small reptile, or an old license plate, but his treasure that day was a hefty, shiny, black rock. The scene was predictable—mom looks delighted (but firmly commands it not to be left in the kitchen), later dad offers a half-hearted compliment after regarding the rock with the same feigned interest that he once showed to the dozens of other collectables that he’s tripped over this month. And you’ve guessed the ending: Roy’s clunky crystal transitions from imaginary treasure, to magical space shard, to windowsill decoration, to paperweight, to doorstop within two weeks—just another stubborn memento of a carefree summer vacation by the time school starts up again.
We’ve all delighted in little finds like Roy’s black rock, whether they be curios from nature, bargain antiques from a second-hand shop, or even the perfect little café to meet at after work. There’s always an initial thrill of collector’s joy which slowly fades to indifference as our sweet little novelty atrophies into a piece of humdrum clutter. At times it seems that nothing we live with so regularly is impervious to this bleak soul-drain: not rock collections, not luncheonettes, not people, nor even our very faith. Those in the temple in today’s Gospel even became jaded with the Son of God himself. They have been looking at Jesus and listening to Him, but only recognizing an ordinary preacher. They jeeringly challenge Jesus to declare Himself outright, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). This after Jesus had just spoken to them of the Father and had offered His listeners life in abundance.
It’s not as if Jesus is just spouting words—In the previous chapter He healed a man blind from birth. So how do those in the temple not know to value Jesus as He stands before them in His Father’s house? The same way that Roy’s great rock, Sunday mass, our co-workers, friends, and even spouses can lose their allure and fade into a dusty background. It comes from repeated denial that what we do and how we live is important; it comes from not acknowledging that we’re in the presence of something special.
If we learn nothing else from Christ’s Incarnation, death, and resurrection, it is that God’s every action towards us is a generous gesture of love lavished upon us to restore our fallen selves to the promise of eternal happiness with Him. “He always gives us more than we ask Him for,” St. Teresa of Avila reminds us. Even the very things we view as tedious elements of daily life are trophies of God’s faithfulness in which we ourselves take part. A sure-fire way to convert sighs of stale subsistence back to the spirited wonder of the backyard treasure hunt is to take a moment to thank God in prayer:
Without that union with Christ that is fostered through prayer, our energy flags, we lose fervor, and we run the risk of becoming a noisy gong, a clanging symbol. We must find time, we must make time to be with the Lord in prayer. . . It is only if we spend time with the Lord that our spending time with others will also be a bringing of Him to others. (Bl. John Paul II)
Our prayer need not be a dazzling diamond of religious rhetoric, as St. John Vianney reminds us:
One need not say much to pray well. We know that Jesus is there in the Tabernacle: let us open our hearts to Him, let us rejoice in His sacred presence.
With a moment of quiet gratitude, we can cultivate a sense of awe as we realize that our troublesome family member is a living building-block of our life, that our tiresome work is a means of our sanctification, and that the small little wafer is actually the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Word that created the furthest reaches of the universe.
Familiarity can lull our senses to sleep, but constantly coming into the presence of something great—even if that something is in ordinary guise—offers a constant chance for conversion, for coming to our senses and realizing the treasure before us. For the Spencers, it took nine years of overlooking young Roy’s neglected doorstop before they finally realized it was what would later be known as the Star of Queensland—the largest star sapphire in the world. The difference was stopping to appreciate what they had grown up with, as is the case with us and the pearl of great price that is our faith.
Image: Jacek Yerka, Spring Labyrinth