By Barb Arland-Fye
My 17-year-old son has been reading “The Scarlet Letter” for American Literature class, sharing the novel’s details and his feelings about the story with me. Patrick is intrigued by the story’s symbolism; I’m intrigued with its lessons in morality.
One night Patrick talked about the scorned mother, Hester, and her relationship with her 7-year-old daughter, born of an adulterous relationship for which Hester is being publicly punished by her Puritan community. “What’s the daughter’s name?” I asked Patrick. “Pearl,” he said, pointing out the symbolism of a pearl being a thing of beauty. “Hester doesn’t see Pearl as a mistake. She sees her as a gift from God.”
Immediately, the parable of the pearl of great price came to my mind. Patrick and I briefly discussed the parable’s meaning and how it could relate to “The Scarlet Letter.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it …” (Matt: 13:45-47)
Hester’s community views her as evil for violating its moral strictures; conversely, she has birthed goodness into this community — a daughter, a pearl of great price, created in the image of God. Matthew’s parable speaks to our willingness to forsake all other treasures for the pearl of great price, the kingdom of God. We are also reminded throughout Scripture that God is love; Jesus instructed his followers to love one another, and thus, the love a mother has for her child — whatever the cost involved — becomes like the pearl of great price.
Scripture, of course, doesn’t encourage us to break any of the Ten Commandments. But sometimes, as Catholics striving to live by God’s Word, we lose sight of the call to love and forgive; to be loved and forgiven.
The essential elements of Jesus’ teaching on justice and morality are found throughout the New Testament. Servais Pinckaers, OP, observes in “Morality: The Catholic View” that among the principal passages is the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel. “It is an explanation of the call to conversion.”
His observations struck a chord and caused me to be more attuned to a brief homily I heard during Mass at the St. Vincent Center in which Msgr. John Hyland reflected on the conversion of St. Paul.
Recapping the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Msgr. Hyland described Paul as the Jewish leadership’s “hammer” against the first followers of Jesus.
In his conversion experience, “Paul comes to realize that God is not served in the persecution of others; that God is blasphemed when others are stoned in his name; that God is betrayed when estrangement is preferred to reconciliation, when vengeance destroys any hope of forgiveness.”
And that draws us back to love. “God calls each of us, every day, to experience such conversion,” Msgr. Hyland said: “to behold our world with the eyes of God; to realize God’s love in our midst and to reveal that presence in others; to understand the call of our baptisms to be builders of God’s kingdom of reconciliation — not judges and enforcers of God’s justice. As Paul discovers, conversion is not a singular moment or event but a continuing, lifelong experience of becoming, of learning, of understanding what it means to be a son or daughter of God.”
Through his conversion, Paul came to realize his call to reveal God’s healing and reconciling word, Msgr. Hyland said. “May we, too, reveal God’s love in the midst of our own homes and communities.”
Words of wisdom to ponder in today’s culture, as we strive to make sense of a rapidly changing world and develop our relationship with God and one another.