During Summer the liturgical cycle of readings gives us much to ponder in a lazy, hazy afternoon in the hammock : or maybe just in church. This Sunday's readings are no exception. In the second reading we can take on the age-old discussion of "What is predestination, anyway?" and "What does justification have to do with glorification?" This will always help to bring on one's nap.
The Gospel gives us the imagery : if its pictures you prefer : of treasures in the field and pearls of great price. And if you really want one of those musings that will extend that lazy, hazy afternoon just consider whether there really is a hell of darkness and wailing.
I would like to consider one feature of all these ponderings, though, and hope to not precipitate too many early naps. It is to ask the question of "What is the religious experience of the kingdom of heaven?" and also the question "Who gets to participate in this realm of happiness and divine fortune?"
To experience the treasure in the field is to feel the joy of discovery that God is good and we who share in this goodness are happy to be together. These days to have a religious experience is to fully participate in the event. Now, some of us remember the days of having to follow so many rules that qualified us to participate in the religious experiences of sacraments and holy rituals. These were clear-cut admission tickets, if you will. You were either in or you were out.
Not so, these days. I recall when people experienced the religious rituals of Pope John Paul II and how meaningful their participation was in them. Of course, when you asked people if they followed all the rules as the Pope had laid down in terms of sexual morality, scathing critiques of both communism and capitalism, and teachings on the death penalty they would be excluded. And the fact is most people who participated in these events did not agree with the Pope yet they still experienced the joy of their faith as a community.
I recall the report of one young woman who proclaimed herself to be a full-fledged member of the JPII generation. In her estimation the Polish Pontiff was just the greatest and she loved her participation in his religious rituals and events. When the journalist pointed out to her that according to her responses to several questions she did not follow the Pope in several critical areas of faith and morals she responded, "Well, he's entitled to his opinion."
Participation and Inclusion are critical features of religious experience in our time. The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, has a theory of such participation. It is a theory called "communicative action" which means that the very ritual itself that we celebrate is the source of meaning and the spiritual inspiration we seek. And to be included in this action is a critical aspect of committing oneself to a life of faith.
So on this lazy, hazy summer Sunday the answer to our question concerning religious experience and one's full participation in it is "This Liturgy, This Sacrament is our experience," and "We together are full participants in this prayer and godly relationship."
After all, when Solomon made his request to God remember what he asked for. He did not ask for a complete, consistent, and clear following according to the laws and commands of God in order to be favored by God. Nor did he ask that he be counted among the lawgivers who were gatekeepers to the Jewish religious experience. Solomon asked for an understanding heart.
This is what encourages people and includes them at the feast of sacrament, the festival of celebration for God's people. So, in our ponderings and musings we seek a heart that, like Solomon, has the wisdom to include, unite, and feed all who participate in this meal of Eucharist.