30 July 2017

Homily - 30 July 2017 - The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

No farmer works the soil expecting to find a treasure buried there (cf. Matthew 13:44). Likewise, no merchant has high expectations of finding "a pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45). When they do find such an item, the joy they experience comes from the unexpectedness of such a find in the midst of the ordinary pursuits of life; the discovery of a treasure – be it an ancient burial mound or the bones of a dinosaur - seems a pure gift from the heavens, a gift not found by others.

If a farmer is to find a great treasure in his field, if a merchant is to find a priceless pearl, or if a fisherman is to haul in a great catch, he must already be about the work of farming, of buying and selling, or of fishing; he cannot simply sit idly by in his house and hope such things come to him. The discovery of such a treasure, of such a pearl, or of such a catch is a gift, yes, but one that comes with some effort. As it is with these earthly treasures, so it is with spiritual treasures. Those who seek to grow daily in holiness may well stumble upon spiritual treasures in the midst of their daily pursuits to grow in faith, in hope, and in love; those who are not interested in growing in holiness, in living a life of faith, hope, and love, are unlikely to find a spiritual treasure.

Let us consider for a moment this pearl and this treasure of which the Lord speaks. Because Jesus speaks to us here in parables, we know these images must have a deeper meaning than the ones they have on the surface. If we look upon them with the eyes of faith we will see that the pearl and the treasure are nothing less than Jesus himself. Christ Jesus is himself the Pearl of Great Price and the Treasure Hidden in the Field, just as he is the net that has caught us in his embrace.

Both the pearl and the treasure were already present before the farmer and the fisherman set about their work. So it is with all who seek Jesus Christ and his kingdom; he is present to them even before they begin to search for him. Saint Augustine summed it up nicely when he wrote in his Confessions:

Saint Augustine of Hippo
Too late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, O Beauty ever new. Too late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you… You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.[1]

As fishes must yield to the fisherman’s net, so must we yield to the net of the great Fisher of Men who longs to draw us into his Kingdom.

We see, then, that the Lord Jesus is often found in the most unexpected of places and wherever he is, there is his kingdom. He has already given himself to us in the Sacrament of Baptism in the profound gift that comes from the outpouring of water and the Holy Spirit. In these life-giving waters the pearl of grace and the treasure of faith has been entrusted to us to be guarded and increased; within these waters, his net has been cast over us (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). But how do we keep this treasure safe? How do we yield to his net? King Solomon points the way out to us.

When the Lord God addressed to him that surprising and risky command, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," Solomon demonstrated by his words that he already possessed the gift he requested of the Lord, at least in a shadowy form; he could not have asked for the gift of wisdom without already being wise (I Kings 3:5). It may be that King Solomon intuited what Saint Paul wrote to the people of Rome: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

The son of David knew that God's purpose for him was to "govern this vast people of yours" by being able to "distinguish right from wrong" (I Kings 3:9). But having asked for and received this gift of wisdom, Solomon did not always act wisely and found himself at times in serious sin. In this, we see that he did not always make use of the gift he was given, that he did not always yield to the Lord’s net. Are you and I any different?

How often do we likewise not make use of the gift of faith that has been given to us? Faith in the Lord’s goodness and care for us helps us to keep farming, buying and selling, and fishing as the men in his parables. When a time of difficulty comes, though, we frequently back away from the Lord. Having received the Ten Commandments, we too often live without reference to them. And when a doubt or question arises about the faith we have received we do not bother to study the faith more deeply and to know it - and Jesus Christ - more intimately. When we feel the Lord calling us one direction, we go the other way. I cannot help but wonder, if the Lord were to say to us, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," what would we request?

Some centuries ago, the Lord said something similar to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Toward the end of his life, Saint Thomas, one of the greatest minds the Church has ever known, was writing a treatise on the Eucharist, struggling to complete it. In great frustration, the quiet man of God threw his text at the foot of a crucifix, asking the Lord what he thought of what he had written. The voice of God came through the figure of the Crucified Lord, saying to him: “You have written well of me, Thomas. What would you have?”

Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas could choose whatever he wanted, whatever he desired. Would he ask for wealth, or fame, or power? Would he ask for love, or athletic skill, or simple pleasures?  He could ask for anything; what would he ask of the Lord? Like King Solomon before him, Saint Thomas asked neither “for a long life for [him]self, nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies” (IKings 3:11). He answered the Savior with these profound words: “Nil nisi te, Domine, nil nisi te (Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you).”The Angelic Doctor answered wisely and honestly. He “wanted nothing more than Christ, nothing other than Christ, nothing less than Christ.”[2] He knew that, as he had written earlier in his life, “God alone satisfies.”[3] Would we ask the same of the Lord?

If we ask the Lord for nothing but himself, we will yield to his net and have the joy of his treasure in our hearts, and find ourselves in his kingdom. But how do we keep this initial joy of finding that buried treasure and great pearl? How do we remain in the joy of yielding to the Lord’s net? Saint Damien of Moloka’i once said: “To have begun is nothing, the hard thing is to persevere. This is the work of God’s grace. That grace will never fail me, I am sure of that, provided I do not resist it. Pray for me. I will do all that depends on me.”[4]

This is true for us, as well. Once we have done our part the Lord will do his part. We need only look upon the crucifix to know he keeps his word. If we seek to grow daily in holiness, if we seek to live lives of faith, hope, and love, we will learn to yield to his net by relying on God’s grace and by desiring him above all else. If we do not resist his grace but yield to his merciful love, he will bring us to the point where we can say in honest and humble love, “Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you.” Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.
[2] Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, 2008), 12.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Expos. In symb apost, I. In Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1718.
[4] In Vital Jourdain, SS.CC., The Heart of Father Damien. Francis Larkin, SS.CC. and Charles Davenport, trans. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955), 50.

23 July 2017

Homily - 23 July 2017 - The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just a few moments ago, we collected our various intentions and presented them together to the Father, praying the Lord to “increase the gifts of [his] grace” so that, we, his servants, will be “ever watchful in keeping [his] commands.”[1] This prayer, then, presumes two things about us: first, that we desire to keep his commands and, second, that we know what his commands are.

The commands of the Lord Jesus are not always easy, this we know, but they are always simple for they consist in one thing. The Lord Jesus summarized his commands, saying:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

We might say that the first and second commandment are really the same because both require love, first to God and then to neighbor; we might also say that they are not separate commands, but one command, since the one flows directly from the other. To love God is to honor him, for it is right and just for the creature to worship the Creator. To love our neighbors is to desire and to work for what is for his or her true and lasting good. Loving in this way is not easy, but it is supremely simple.

The gifts of God’s grace might likewise be simply summarized in one principle gift, a gift named in the final line from the first reading: the “repentance of sins” (Wisdom 12:19). The reality of sin and its consequences have fallen rather out of fashion in recent years and some now even deny any deed or thought can really be sinful. Even within the confessional, too many go so far as to say, “I haven’t really done anything wrong,” and think themselves alright, being, in their own estimation, “a good person.” This is due, in no small part, to the subtlety of the evil one who sows while men sleep and pay little heed (cf. Matthew 13:25). It is also due to our own pride, for we do not like to acknowledge we are not always very lovable and that we fail to love God and neighbor in ways both great and small.
Let me illustrate the Devil’s subtlety with a personal anecdote. One warm summer day perhaps ten years ago, I was returning home from a visit with a few friends dressed in what we priests call “normal people” clothes (this will be important). I stopped at a gas station and after filling up went inside to pay. As soon as I walked through the door, the cashier said to me, “Will you watch the store? I need to use the restroom?” and with that she was gone. A bit taken aback, I did not quite know what to do.
As I waited for her to return, my eyes caught sight of a Snickers ice cream bar, one of the greatest delectables known to man. In my pride, a thought occurred to me: I could take that ice cream bar and nobody would ever know about it. I justified the thought in three ways: first, I was doing the cashier a favor and it is good to be rewarded; second, it was a hot day and the ice cream would cool me down; and, third, I was hungry, and we all know that “Snickers really satisfies.” My argumentation was perfectly logical, but it was wrong.

Certainly, it is good to be rewarded for kind acts (so long as we do not come to expect to be rewarded); it is good to be cooled on a hot day; and it is also good to have our hunger satisfied. However, it is never good to obtain attain any of this through an evil act, through sin. This is way of the evil one, who presents good things to us but suggests we obtain them through an immoral manner; “the end justifies the means” might well be the motto of Satan. I was tempted to obtain three goods by forsaking that which is the greater good, the moral law. (For the record, I did not take the Snickers ice cream bar, nor – as a self-imposed penance – did I buy one that day.)

The evil one continually roams the fields of the Father sowing his seeds. These weeds grow and seek to intertwine their roots among those of the wheat and slowly they poison it. Once poisoned, the wheat produces little or no fruit and is worthless, good only to be collected with “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” and cast into the fire (Matthew 13:41).

It sometimes happens that we accept the lies of the evil one and give in to his subtle tricks; we sometimes live, act, and think more like weeds than like wheat. The roots of his weeds have grown and spread so far that many who think themselves wheat in the Father’s fields no longer acknowledge right and wrong; they do not keep the Father’s commands and - worse yet – they do not think them important, but see them as something for a bygone era. In his or her pride, the false wheat – the weed -does not acknowledge his or her sin, that in deeds and thoughts, in things done and not done, he or she has fallen short of the mark and has not produced the proper fruit.

Several years ago, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger rightly warned of this danger:

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.[2]

How, then, do we distinguish the true from the false? How do we love truly and authentically?

We do so by “be[ing] ready to preserve the grace received from the day of our Baptism, continuing to nourish faith in the Lord that prevents evil from taking root.”[3] It was in Baptism that we rejected Satan and all his works and all his empty promises, yet this rejection must be made time and again throughout our lives. This requires a regular examination of our consciences with one simple question: When and how did I fail to love today?

When we begin to ask this question at the end of every day, our sin will become apparent to us and we will have “good ground for hope” because the Lord is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon [him]” (Wisdom 12:19; Psalm 86:9). Here we see that his kindness requires that we first call upon him, that we acknowledge our sin and pray, “Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant” (Psalm 86:16). It is good for us to remember what Pope Francis has so often said: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[4]

All of this, of course, presupposes that we desire to be “fervent in hope, faith, and charity.”[5] Put another way, it presupposes that the primary goal of our lives is that we grow in holiness, that we be true and faithful friends of Jesus, that we produce much fruit and yield a rich harvest (cf. John 12:24). When we think of growing of holiness, we often grow somewhat uncomfortable because we think it is something beyond us and perhaps not even meant for us. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The Lord desires this for each of us. He desires that we be righteous and “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43)!

We should not be afraid of holiness or shy away from it; rather, we should desire it with all of our heart! It is only by continual growth in holiness that we will find the satisfaction and fulfillment of our every yearning. And it is only by using the Sacrament of Penance well and regularly that this continual growth can come about. 

Just as at the end of each day we should ask where we failed to love, at the beginning of each day we should ask for the strength to love. We should keep in mind and heart this advice of J.R.R. Tolkien: “To ourselves we must present the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength (+grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could achieve.”[6]

[1] Roman Missal, Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 18 April 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 17 July 2011.
[4] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 3.
[5] Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, Draft Letter to Eileen Elgar, September 1963. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the Assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 326.

20 July 2017

Tolton Drama coming to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

The good folks with St. Luke Productions have a produced a one-man drama about the life of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton titled, Tolton: From Slave to Priest. The subtitle is taken from the title of a biographical novel by Sr. Caroline Hemesath, O.S.F. of the same name and published by Ignatius Press:
In the past, I've had the honor of working with Leonardo Defilippis, the President and Founder of St. Luke Productions when he gave a very moving performance of Vianney, a one-man drama on the life of the Cure of Ars. I'm especially looking forward to his team in brining Tolton: From Slave to Priest to the Diocese.
We are still working on firming up the cities and the specific locations for the performances, but it is safe to safe that Tolton: From Slave to Priest will be performed in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois November 5-12, 2017. I will soon be working to arrange performances in Quincy, Springfield, Decatur, Jacksonville, Effingham, Alton, and Edwardsville (priests in these cities will soon be hearing from me).
If you're interested in scheduling a performance - or even a set of performances - you may inquire here. If you'd to help support the production of these performances and help make the story of Father Gus known, you can do so here.
I hope to be able to announce the dates and locations of the performances in the next few weeks. Keep on this blog, the Catholic Times, and your parish bulletins for more information!

18 July 2017

On the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon

On this day in the year 1100, Godfrey de Bouillon died in Jerusalem at the age of about forty after suffering from some sort of illness. One of the leaders of the First Crusade who set out to reclaim the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims (who first took it from the Christians in 637 - this is often forgotten), Duke Godfrey became the ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, ruling for only about a year, after the city fell to the Crusaders on 15 July 1099 after 462 years under Muslim control.
In his Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, William of Trye described Godfrey in these words:
Godfrey was the eldest of them by birth and the foremost in his inner qualities as well.... He was a religious man, mild mannered, virtuous, and God­fearing. He was just, he avoided evil, he was trustworthy and dependable in his undertakings. He scorned the vanities of the world, a quality rare in that age and especially among men of the military profession. He was assiduous in prayer and pious works, renowned for his liberality, graciously affable, civil, and merciful. His whole life was commendable and pleasing to God. His body was tall and although he was shorter than the very tall, yet he was taller than men of average height. He was a man of incomparable strength, with stout limbs, a manly chest, and a handsome face. His hair and beard were a medium blond. He was considered by everyone to be most outstanding in the use of weapons and in military operations.
That William did not exaggerate the piety of Godfrey can be seen in what he said after his election as the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem on 22 July 1099. Not only did he refuse to wear a golden crown because Jesus wore only a crown of thorns, he also refused the title of king because Christ Jesus is the only true King of Jerusalem. He took instead the title of Advocatus Sancti Supulchri ("Defender of the Holy Sepulchre," the tomb of Christ) and, for this reason, Godfrey is the founder of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, of which I am a Knight. Regrettably, those who succeeded him did not always demonstrate a similar humility.
Godfrey was respected not only by Christians, but also by Muslims, one of whom noted Godfrey was "satisfied with such a modest apparel, without rugs or silk drapes and without a royal attire". Such was Godfrey's fame in the Middle Ages that he was soon numbered among the Nine Worthies, of whom three were pagan (Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar), three Jewish (Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus), and three Christian (Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey).
The tomb of Duke Godfrey de Bouillon was destroyed in 1808.
The creation of the Jerusalem Cross, the symbol of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, is attributed to Duke Godfrey:
The meaning of the five crosses varies, mostly commonly being held to recall the Five Wounds of Christ, or the Cross of Christ and the Four Evangelists, or the Cross of Christ and the four corners of the world. The color of the Jerusalem Cross was later changed from gold to red.

To the rank of Knight Commander

Last week I received the happy news that I am to be promoted from the rank of Knight to that of Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sephulchre of Jerusalem this coming October. One of the few remaining chivalric orders, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre has a long history:
The Constitution of the Order states four specific purposes to which the Knights and Dames are committed:
  1. To strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, in absolute fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and according to the teachings of the Church, observing as its foundation the principles of charity of which the order is a fundamental means for assistance to the Holy Land;
  2. To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural and social works and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, particularly those of and in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with which the Order maintains its traditional ties;
  3. To support the preservation and propagation of the Faith in those lands, and promote interest in this work not only among Catholics scattered throughout the world, who are united in charity by the symbol of the Order, but also among all other Christians; and,
  4. To uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
Please join me in praying for the work of the Order and for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in the Holy Land.

17 July 2017

Should Tolkien's faith be discussed?

Being an avid reader of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and various commentaries upon his writings, I have been a member of The Tolkien Society for a few years now. I enjoy both its print publications and its page on Facebook, where a great many things are shared, from a wide variety of questions to news articles to artworks inspired by his legendarium to Tolkien-related events.
As a sort of security measure, the Facebook page of The Tolkien Society is a "closed" page with moderation, meaning that requests to join the page and posts to the page must all be approved by an administrator.
Yesterday, I submitted Mike Aquilina's "Chord of the Rings," which someone passed on to me the other day. It is an older reflection on Tolkien's creation myth in relation to the hymning of creation spoken of by Fathers of the Church. I received a disappointing response from one of the admins:
Thanks for wanting to share that post from the Eighth Day institute. It is an interesting article, but reading it carefully reveals that it has a rather strong religious message. Unfortunately, we've often found that religious posts often lead to unnecessary and unpleasant arguments, so we won't be putting it through to the group.
Being, as I said, rather disappointed with this response, I asked if it wouldn't be better instead to call for civility and respect for those who oppose Tolkien's faith, which was undeniably central both to his life and to his writings. I also asked the administrators of the group page to reconsider this decision. The response was again disappointing but understandable: "[T]he current rules have grown up from years of experience of moderating a FB group with thousands of members."

Have we in the West really fallen so low that we cannot allow devotees of an author to discuss every aspect of an author's life? Tolkien himself said his The Lord of the Rings "is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" (Letter to Robert Murray, 2 December 1953); how much of an integral conversation can actually be had, then, if this foundation is not allowed to be discussed?

I understand the difficulty the administrators have in keeping on an eye on the page. They are all volunteers and have their families to attend to, and rightly so. But what does it say about us if we cannot allow a discussion of the role of faith in the lives of various people? I, as a man of faith, do not go around causing a ruckus on the Internet whenever I see a post by an atheist; why do they feel the need to stir up trouble when they see a post about Tolkien's faith? If the read his letters, they'd know how central it was to him and to his works.

It seems we need a new lesson in decency, respect, and civility.

16 July 2017

A sixth step for Deacon Kandra's five steps

Some days ago, Deacon Greg Kandra wrote a post directed to pastors with "5 things to do before you say Mass ad orientem," some which are helpful and some rather obvious. To these five, I suggest a sixth: Know your congregation.
During my first year as Parochial Vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham, Illinois, I was to celebrate the entire Triduum at our mission parish of the Annunciation (more commonly referred to simply as St. Mary's) in Shumway. To help prepare myself for these celebrations, I went out to the church early during Holy Week to have a look around with and through the Roman Missal. In doing so, I noted an oft overlooked rubric for Holy Saturday that says after the third singing of "The Light of Christ" and the response "Thanks be to God," "the Deacon places the paschal candle on a large candlestand prepared next to the ambo or in the middle of the sanctuary" (no. 17, emphasis mine).
The ambo was situated rather close to the wall of the sanctuary, so placing the paschal candle on the right of the ambo did not seem a good option. However, the ambo was also situated rather near the altar and placing the paschal candle on the left of the ambo might impede between the ambo and the altar. Pondering this little dilemma, I said to myself, "I wonder..."
It's not the best picture, but you get the idea
This church maintained (and still maintains) it's old "high altar," complete with candles and altar clothes as if the altar were simply waiting to be used. The newer, wooden altar in the middle of the sanctuary was on plastic pieces to help move furniture about. I wondered to myself if we should remove the free-standing altar, replace it with the paschal candle, and simply use the high altar for the Easter Vigil.
As I gave serious consideration to the pros and cons of this idea, some ladies of the parish came in to begin decorating for Holy Thursday. I shared this idea with them, women of different ages and backgrounds, and asked their opinions. One of them said, "Change is good, Father," and the rest agreed. And so it was done.
Prior to the lighting of the Easter Fire, the Book of the Gospels was placed on the high altar, so when the alleluia began, I ascended the steps of the high altar, took the Book of the Gospels, and went to ambo. Later, for the preparation of the altar and of the gifts, I again simply went ascended the steps to the high altar and offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass as if nothing at all were different; I made comment about celebrating ad orientem at all and, contrary Deacon Kandra's fifth step, no criticisms were voiced whatever. It was the most prayerful Mass I had yet celebrated. The servers remarked it was the best Mass they served. And the members of the congregation all seemed to have enjoyed it, as well. Together, we turned towards the Lord and it was lovely.
A few years later, I did the same at Sacred Heart Parish in Virden, Illinois, my first pastorate, again without commenting about it in any way. There, too, it was very well received.
However, I once celebrated the Mass ad orientem in a church at which I was a "visiting" priest, filling in one Sunday for the pastor who was away. One of the lights at the front of the pews was flickering incessantly and I had a very difficult time keeping concentration through the Liturgy of the Word because the light was so distracting; it was, frankly, obnoxious. In order to keep my concentration through the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I again offered the Mass ad orientem, this time at the free-standing altar and again without commenting about it in any way. In this particular parish it was not at all well received, though no one said anything to me about it (the pastor heard about it, apparently, upon his return).
These experiences have shown me that some parishes are quite open for ad orientem worship (even eager for it) while others are not at all open to it; some parishes will need little (if any) catechesis about ad orientem liturgies, while others will require lots of catechesis to prepare for ad orientem liturgies (if they are ever ready for them).

Homily - 16 July 2017 - The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,

How often do we, too, wish to ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables” (Matthew 13:10)? Moreover, how often do we wish to ask him, “Why do you speak to us in parables?” Why does he not speak plainly to us, but rather in riddles and intimations? Does he not want us to hear, understand, and receive his message in humble joy?

When we reflect on the parable proclaimed today, we usually focus on the various types of soil. Important as these are, it seems to me the primary focus of the parable is not so much on the ground, but on Jesus, the Divine Sower. It is the seed of his word that goes forth from his mouth to do his will (cf. Isaiah 55:11). This does not negate the certainty that the types of ground “represent different modes of receiving the Word, or different modes of listening: the Word of God is sown in every human being, and in each one it wants to bring forth a fruit full of life.”[1] It is always Jesus who sows and speaks, and so this parable is “autobiographical,” for it is he who has “visited the land and watered it” with his word; it is he who has “prepared the land: drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods, softening it with showers, blessing its yield” (Psalm 65:10, 11).[2] 

Indeed, this parable “reflects the very experience of Jesus, of his preaching,” even as it demonstrates the various ways in which we attend to his preaching.[3] Like every natural seed, the seed of the Word of God takes time to be implanted into the soil of our lives, to germinate and break out of its shell, to push through the soil, and, finally, to produce fruit. To put it perhaps more simply, “the interiorization of the Word needs appropriate, suitable spaces and times: it is not something that happens everywhere, in a moment.”[4] What is more, 

stony ground speaks of a journey that happens in a hurry (the adverb “at once” happens twice) and for this reason it cannot endure, it does not withstand long distances. Speaking of this inconstancy, the evangelist Matthew uses a particular adjective, which literally means “what is only of a moment” (proskairós): the man “of a moment” is one who is enthusiastic about everything, but does not love anything deeply; he lives very fragmented, and does not unify himself around a relationship; he knows no patience.[5] 

Does this not describe a great many of our contemporaries, perhaps even us, men and women of the moment, enthusiastic about everything but loving nothing deeply? It remains, then, for us who are dedicated to the study of the sacred liturgy to remind our neighbors that “without the sacraments of the Church, the Christian life is like the seed fallen on rocky ground which, when it sprouted, it withered for lack of moisture.”[6]
It is within the liturgy of the Church that the Divine Sower reveals the reason for his speaking in parables. Within the sacraments we come to realize that “God's true ‘Parable’ is Jesus himself, his Person who, in the sign of humanity, hides and at the same time reveals his divinity.”[7] Just as he hides himself behind and within his parables, so, too, here he hides himself in the appearance of bread and wine. “In this manner God does not force us to believe in him but attracts us to him with the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son: love, in fact, always respects freedom.”[8]

It remains for us to allow the Lord to drench the furrows of hearts, to break their clods, to soften them with the gentle and yet forceful showers of his love, so that his fruit may be produced in us. This happens not in a moment, but over time; we must be patient with him. May he bring this about continually in us and so allow us to help others interiorize the Word and see the beauty of his love precisely in his hiddenness so his fruit may be born in them. Amen.

[1] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, 15 July 2017.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 10 July 2011.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, 15 July 2017.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Robert Cardinal Sarah, Address tothe ConferenceSacra Liturgia Milan 2017),” “The Sacred Liturgy – Our Encounter with Almighty God: A Christological and Ecclesiological Perspective,” 11.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, ibid.
[8] Ibid.