In the middle of the nineteenth century, the study of archeology was in its infancy. No one was searching the ruins of Rome, or Athens, or Jerusalem for clues to human history. In Rome, the catacombs were ancient memories buried in ancient texts. The Roman forum had become a dumping ground for many centuries and was filled with twenty or thirty feet of garbage and debris.
It was in this context that a Fr. Derasmo began his archeological studies of the city of Rome. Day after day and week after week he would pore over ancient texts in the Vatican library.
One day, to take a break, he went for a walk along the Appian Way. As he was passing by a farm he saw a peasant who was taking a break from his labors. Fr. Derasmo engaged him in a conversation and the farmer invited him in for a glass of “vino.” The table they sat at was a slab of marble. It was oddly shaped because a corner had broken off. It also had some inscription on it in old Latin. Fr. Derasmo asked the farmer where he had found the piece of marble. “Oh, it came up one day when I was plowing my field. It looked nice so I cleaned it up and used it as a table.” Without tipping his hand, Fr. Derasmo said to himself, “This is a 1st or 2nd century inscription. I’ll bet it is from the catacombs.” After some more small talk, Fr. Derasmo took his leave and walked back to the city.
That evening, he went to the restaurant where the pope, Pius IX was having dinner with his secretary. Fr. Derasmo told the pope of his afternoon adventure. The pope showed little interest but thanked father for his story and told him to keep up his studies in the library. Fr. Derasmo knew he had been dismissed so he took his leave. When he was out of earshot, the pope turned to his secretary and said, “Buy that farm.”
We just heard Jesus’ parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price. Pope Pius IX knew a treasure when he heard about it, and he acted.
In our first reading, we hear of Solomon asking God for the wisdom he would need to be the king of Israel. He knew that all kinds of problems might arise in his country and he would need wisdom to sort them out, to discern what was true and what was false, who he should listen to and who not. I think that you and I are in that same kind of situation today.
We have so many problems and so many voices. We have a pandemic of the coronavirus. Some voices insist that everyone should wear a facemask in public. Other voices say, “That is an infringement on my freedom. I should be free to crowd the beaches and the bars.” Who do you listen to?
Some voices say we have to open our schools and colleges in September. Other voices say, we can’t open them unless they are safe for our kids. Some teachers say I love teaching but I will not expose my whole family to the possibility of disease. Some parents say they did not sign up for home schooling and I am sick and tired of doing it and my boss wants me back at work, but who will care for my kids. Again, which voices do you listen to?
We also have our whole racial issue to contend with. We know that our nation has a long history of slavery – several hundred years. We know of the Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. We know of racial discrimination, especially in housing which makes our black brothers and sisters more vulnerable to the coronavirus. We know of disproportionate police violence against blacks. Is it any wonder that they have gathered in protest? But as George Floyd’s brother said, “Protest, yes. Violence, no. Violence will not honor my brother.” And yet we know that there are people who will take advantage of the protests to unleash violence. Which voices do you listen to? We need the divine wisdom.
We have all heard “Black lives matter.” It is a phrase that sums up the grievances of the black community against a society that has closed its eyes to the sin of racism.
We have also heard, “All lives matter.” That is also true. All lives do matter because every one of us is a beloved daughter or son of our loving, creating Father. But our society does not sin by racism against all people in the same way or to the same degree.
Solomon prayed for wisdom. We should all pray for the same wisdom. We know that violence is not the answer. It only provokes more violence. There must be a better way. We know there is a better way. It is the way of Jesus Christ who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I pray that all of us will listen to that voice. There are so many other voices. Let us listen to the voice of Jesus.