A young girl was born in Northern Ireland in November of 1982. Her name was Clare Crockett, and she grew up in a nominal Catholic family. Clare spoke about this 3 years ago in 2014: "I received the sacraments of Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Confirmation, but I never understood, and I never really made an effort to understand, what I was receiving. God played no role in my life. I went to Mass until I was about 15 or 16 years old, which is when my mom stopped going. My sisters and I were supposed to go, but we always just went to a park until Mass was over and then went back home. My mom thought we went to Mass, but we never did."
In high school, she started going to parties and clubs and became addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. She said she was not capable of living without a pack of cigarettes or without her boyfriend. By the time she was 17 she was nearly an alcoholic. But one Good Friday a friend told her, "Today is Good Friday, Clare. Today you have to go to Church." So, she went to the liturgy and sat in one of the back pews. Then it was time for the Veneration of the Cross: "I also got in line with my hands in my pockets.” She said, “I was not thinking of the Passion of the Lord or anything like that. I was thinking, "When is this going to end so I can go out and smoke?" When it was my turn to kiss the Cross, I do not remember if I knelt down or genuflected. I only remember that I kissed the nail that went through the feet of Jesus and received the grace to see that God had died for me on the Cross for my sins, for my vanities, for my infidelities, for my impurity..."
And then the next week she forgot about it all. She continued to drink, smoke, and live an unchaste life. She would have moments of conversion and then relapse. Finally, during her last year of high school, when she was sick one night in a pub bathroom, Clare felt once again the love of Christ for her which enabled her to finally throw off the yoke of sin and become a disciple of Jesus. Clare found the pearl of great price, and in 2001 she dedicated her life to God as a sister. She served in Ireland, here in the United States in Jacksonville, and the last few years at an orphanage in Ecuador. My cousin from Baltimore actually worked with her for a month on a mission trip two years ago. She said that Sr. Clare was the happiest person she had ever met in her life. Last year in April, during the big earthquake in Ecuador, Sister Clare died as she helped get the young girls out of the house. The roof and upper stories collapsed on her and she went to meet the God who had transformed her life.
Clare's life shows us that the path to joy is the same today as it always has been. When you encounter the hidden treasure, you do not regret anything you must give up. Think about the words in today's gospel: “The Kingdom is like a man who discovers a hidden treasure and with great joy goes out and sells all he has to buy it. Not sadly or begrudgingly, but with great joy, because he knows that the field with the buried treasure is worth so much more than anything he currently has.
Clare was a promising actoress when she was growing up. She had a great personality, had already starred in Irish Television, and helped host the Nickelodeon channel in Ireland. She often said that she felt like she had not given up anything when she left all this and became a nun, that she had given up nothing and gained everything. She gave up things that can't last for a joy that lasts forever. It’s like Solomon who today did not ask for riches or long life, but for wisdom. It’s like St. Paul who said, “I consider everything else to be rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ our Lord.”
Knowing Jesus and being able to experience his presence in the Church through the sacraments is a great treasure, but how easy it is to see it as a burden. How can this be? If it is such a treasure, why don't we always experience it as such? I think we have to say that there can be a number of reasons for this. It could be that we have placed a barrier in our life, some fault or sin that we nurture and won't give up, and this can make God seem burdensome. It could be simply the weakness of our human nature, our many human imperfections. But I think the main reason why knowing Jesus can seem like a burden is that it is a relationship of love. And that might sound contradictory at first, but it's not. Love always demands that we give of ourselves. It often hurts us. Can you think of anything or anyone in your life that you love that hasn't cost you? That hasn't bored you even at times or even hurt you? I doubt it. Love requires sacrifice, even sometimes monotony, and yet, it is always worth it. We see this in a particular way, perhaps, for those of you are married. Think of everything that your marriage costs you and of everything your kids cost you. Think of all the money, free time and peace of mind you would have if you weren't married or you didn't have kids. But then think of all the joy and love you would have missed out on. That is true for all of us: married, single, or religious. Love costs us, but it gives far more than we could imagine. And all of us, whether married or not, are capable and indeed called to love others with a marital love, that is, with a sincere gift of ourself.
And so with our faith. We have to sell everything else. In other words, we have to put everything else secondary in order to put our faith in Jesus first. And this is hard. But it's worth it. Death will come for all of us and it won't care how much money we have or how much success. It might come early as it did for Sr. Clare, or it might come when we are 95, and either way it is going to come quickly. There is no regret like the regret that comes from looking back on a selfish and sterile life as it comes to an end, but there is no joy like the joy that comes from finding the treasure hidden in a field, the treasure of knowing Jesus and conforming our life to be like him.
This is why Sr. Clare could write to her Mother Superior in 2015, just months before her death: “I am happy, happy, happy! Even though there are days when things are difficult. It is worth it to give one's life to God, who is so great. This is what my heart has always desired, and is the reason why no human love, plan, or thing has ever been able to fill it.” Only Jesus. Are we that joyful? Could we truthfully say words like that? Or have we kept so much in our life that we can't afford to buy the treasure in the field? If that's true, how crazy is that? Keeping our rhinestones and turning our back on true wealth. Thankfully, as Sr. Clare found out, it's never too late to change, even if we keep falling as we change slowly like she did. Its never too late and it's never the wrong time. In fact, today is the perfect time to begin again.