Auction of the Lifetime (2017)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 1st January 2017, Prague, Czech republic
Far away from the commotion of the world, deep in the centre of Australia, a father and his son who had a great affection for each other, lived on a lonely farm. They possessed an art collection which they had gathered together during many years. They very much enjoyed tracking more selected works of art and add them to their collection. In the meantime precious paintings of Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and other renowned artists adorned the walls of the farm house. The elder man, a widower, observed with contentment how his only child in the course of time, became an experienced art collector. The father was very proud of the trained eye and the smart business sense which his son proved when dealing worldwide with other art collectors.
At the beginning of the winter a terrible war broke out in the country and the young man left his father’s house in order to serve his people. Already a few weeks later his father received a telegram telling him that his beloved son had been missing in a battle. The worried farmer was waiting for more news and at the same time feared to never see his son again. Some time later his fears were confirmed. The young man had been killed when carrying a wounded fellow-soldier towards a doctor. This news affected the old man. Before coming of Christmas he was deeply grieved and full of lonesome sorrow. The happiness of former Christmas times, a time which he and his son had always been looking forward with joy, would never again fill his house.
On Christmas morning a vehement knocking on the door awoke the gloomy old man. When he opened, a soldier greeted him who carried a large package in his hand and who introduced himself with the following words: “I was a friend of your son. I was the one whose life he had saved before he died. May I come in for a few minutes? I would like to show you something.“ The soldier then told him about the enthusiasm of his friend when he had told everybody of his passion for art, not to mention the passion of his father. “I am an artist myself, unknown it is true, but I am a passionate hobby painter“, said the soldier, “and I would like to give you this.“ The old man immediately opened the package – he could hardly believe his eyes, but it was the portrait of his son. Although the world of art would never consider it a brilliant work, this portrait represented the face of his beloved son in impressive details. The old man, deeply moved, thanked the soldier and promised to suspend the painting above his chimney. When the soldier had gone, the old man immediately set to work. He had to take off some of the most precious paintings from his preferred field of vision. He then set down in his arm chair and spent almost the whole Christmas time looking at the portrait of his son.
During the following weeks the old man was comforted again and again by the thought: “Although my son is not alive any more, he will be unforgotten by all those who were once in contact with him.“ As the father learned later, his son had not only saved the painter, but many wounded soldiers, before a deadly bullet had set an end to his life. When the old man learned about the courage and the helpfulness of his son, he was filled with paternal pride and peace which slowly began to relieve his pain. The portrait of his son became his most precious jewel and it eclipsed the attention which he formerly had paid to the other portraits, although the museums all over the world would have been keen to get just these.
He also told all his neighbours in endless enthusiasm that this was the most wonderful present which he ever had received.
During the following spring the old man become so ill that he died after a short time. Art collectors all over the world got very excited at this news! They now saw a chance to gain exquisite rarities. None of them wasted any thought on the tragic fate of the old man’s only son; they were only interested in the forthcoming auction. According to the last will of the old man the auction of all the paintings did not take place immediately but on the following Christmas day, on that same day when he once had received his most beautiful present. This day finally came and rich art collectors from all over the world hoped to buy some of the spectacular art treasures for which they would be envied by many others.
The auction has begun. There was absolute silence among the widely travelled. With which treasure might this special day begin? But at the great disappointment of all art experts the first picture which was put in auction was of absolutely no value to them. It was the portrait of the son. The auctioneer asked for a first bid but the assembly remained silent. He reacted by making an unusually low bid: “Who will open offering 100 $?“
Again some minutes of silence passed. Nobody moved. Finally a voice came from the backmost part of the room: “Who cares for this painting? It is only the not very artistic portrait of the farmer’s son. Let us forget about it and start with the real paintings!“ The other art collectors loudly agreed with him. “No, this portrait has to be sold in the first place“, the auctioneer answered resolutely. “So who will take the son?“
After some hesitation a farm worker, who had been employed by the deceased old man for many years, replied: “Would you eventually leave me this painting for 10 $? This is all the cash which I possess. I knew this boy very well and his portrait would be a beautiful souvenir to me.“ – “Is there anyone offering more?,“ the auctioneer called into the uncomprehending crowd. After several minutes of silence he proceeded with the usual formula: “10 $ first, 10 $ second, 10 $ third!“. The hammer had gone down and the portrait was sold to the farm worker.
Applause filled the room and an excited voice claimed: “Can we now finally start with giving our bids for the real treasures?“ But the auctioneer looked at the audience and declared that the auction was already finished.
Disbelieving astonishment extinguished every noise in the hall. The first one of the persons present who recovered his voice asked: “What do you mean by ´It is over´? We did not make the long journey up to this desolated wilderness in order to buy the portrait of the son of some old farmer.“
He pointed at the gallery: “What will happen to all these remaining works of art? There are millionfold values! I demand that you continue the auction!“
But the auctioneer reacted in an extremely cool manner: “It is very simple! It was the will of the father: ´Whoever takes the son will get everything else in addition.´“
Is it not the same in the spiritual domain? If we always carry the portrait of the son with us, we have everything, we possess everything, even if we possess nothing, heaven on earth then belongs to us.
Christ has become incarnated in order to make us children of God, in order to have us to take part in his divine life. We are not only called children of God, we are his children.
The heavenly Father sees his son in us if we carry this portrait in us. The world wants different pictures. The world takes different pictures for precious treasures but overlooks the real treasure. People come from the distant places in order to buy these other pictures and make many sacrifices in order to see and to possess them.
If we carry the portrait of the son at the moment of our death, we are the happiest men. We can get this portrait so easily, get it back easily; we do not even need to spend 10 $ for it.
We have this portrait if we belong to the mysterious body of the Church.
This is the case when
- we are baptized an in possession of the state of grace
“Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Gost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.“ (Jn 3,5)
- we possess the true faith.
“Go ye in the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, be he that believeth not shall be condemned.” (Mk 16, 15-16)
- we are in connection with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.“ (Mat 16, 18-19)
Let us make an effort to preserve this portrait all over this year by evoking repentance if we sinned, by confessing ourselves as soon as we have the opportunity and by avoiding the next opportunity to sin.