Did you catch that tiny line in this Sunday’s Gospel about a pearl merchant? Those two simple sentences have been a deep source of revelation in my life for the last two years.
In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Pearl of Great Price is one of the parables discussed from Level I on. That means it speaks to the faith needs of even three-, four-, and five-year-olds. In the Atrium, the kids use a simple diorama and 2D figure on a stand. The 2D figure is the pearl merchant. The diorama looks like a simple, one-room dollhouse with a porch. The elimination of the roof and one wall allows the kids see inside better. The merchant owns three containers full of pearls, and his modest home boasts of a table and a shelf. The pearl he goes to seek looks just the same as all the ones he has, except that’s it’s still in it’s shell.
I had thought a ton about the parable before I started crafting the diorama and figure. The fact that the material calls for a pearl like every other pearl led me to a better understanding of holiness, of worth. We give worth to something by giving up something else. That worth transforms into holiness when, by the grace of God, it is given perfectly, freely, joyfully, and completely.
In the same way, God makes our marriages and families holy. He transforms our work. Slowly, but surely, if we let Him, God allows us to make the world holy by each perfected loving act.
As I made the material for the pearl, I noted that the 2D merchant was painted similarly to a chasuble, with a single stripe down the middle. In ours, I had coincidentally – or perhaps providentially – made our little table the same design as our Cenacle, or Last Supper, table, and our Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd altar. I set the pearl merchant behind the little table, and the pearl of great price on top of it.
Then, I saw it. I realized what it was.
The merchant had given up everything. He left it all behind, happily, just for this tiny pearl that looked as if it were no different from the rest. Can you think of something that many in our world don’t at all recognize as priceless because of its small, normal appearance? Something that we, as Catholics, know to be the greatest source of grace and communion with God’s entire kingdom here on earth?
Jesus told us that His Kingdom is like a mustard seed. Small and seemingly inconsequential, it contains great wealth – an unparalleled potential for life-giving growth. The Precious Pearl, the Mustard Seed . . . they are the Eucharist!
Then I thought of building the little bench for the porch that’s recommended for holding the containers of pearls. And I thought of how much I didn’t want to. I dread cutting straight lines with my scroll saw, and the diorama already pushed me out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, my creative juices kicked in. I pondered the things the merchant gave up. He laid down all of them, and he worked to give them up. He had to try to sell everything he had to make the money he needed. I decided his pearls should go on a work rug instead. The kids use work rugs for everything in the Atrium. Rolling up, unrolling, how to sit at its edge and walk around work rugs comprise some of the first presentations.
We offer the work of our hands – the bread and wine. And there we offer ourselves. We are already there, reflected in our work. It’s why it’s always so tempting to show someone a thing we made. It has something of us in it, just as we have something of (hopefully, a lot of!) God in us.
In the finding of the pearl, the merchant would have had to find an oyster. Oysters grow in water. I imagined him diving into the water to find the pearl. Perhaps he simply found it in the possession of a different merchant, but I think that being originally found in the water might play a part in the parable.
Why water? In the Atrium, and in our church, water often symbolizes Baptism – the beginning of our faith journey. It also symbolizes us, lost in Christ, surrounded by His love when we submerge ourselves completely in Him in the chalice of salvation.
So then, the merchant first finds the pearl – Baptism. Then, he changes his life by abandoning everything he had – Reconciliation. Then, he seeks the greatest treasure on earth to fill his heart and home – the Eucharist. And he rejoiced.