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The Sower and the Seed – Are We Listening?

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Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The audio podcast will be posted on Sunday afternoon

Chapter thirteen of Saint Mathew’s Gospel is comprised of seven different parables.  For this reason, this chapter is usually called the parable discourse.  Because the subject matter and themes are similar, the parables are called the kingdom parables.

Jesus’ parables are very effective.  By drawing on the ordinary routines of daily life, he sheds light on the deepest supernatural mysteries.

Jesus taught the seven parables on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, sometimes called Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberius.  Visitors to this fertile plain west of the Sea of Galilee can appreciate Jesus’ description of the sower in the parable (Matthew 13: 1-23).

In the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, the fields were laid out in long narrow strips.  The ground between the strips served as a footpath for those who crossed through the fields.  Over time these paths were beaten hard by the feet of countless villagers who passed through the fields to get to their destinations.  As the sower went about his task in the fields, the wind  carried the seed and some would fall on these hardened paths.

As we hear from this Sunday’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (55: 10 – 11).

The Word of God is the same for each person.  Each person responds to the God’s love in different ways.

The free will of each person is unique and quite mysterious.

Of all of Jesus’ parables, I have found this one to be the most difficult to understand.  How can we understand it and apply it to our daily lives?

As a priest, I deal with people and every person is different.

When we observe the life of most parishes, we notice that some people come only a few times each year.  The pews on Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter fill with many new faces.  Perhaps some of these people may return, but only for special occasions such as a wedding or a funeral.

There are those who attend Sunday Mass often, but not every Sunday. For some reason they have other priorities that keep them from worshiping on the Lord’s Day.  Work, travel, visits from family and friends, professional sporting events and hunting season are priorities in their lives.

We also notice that there are a lot of people who attend Mass only to receive a sacrament.  Once the sacrament is received, they disappear.  I call this voodoo Catholicism or lately, I have heard another term for this frustrating phenomenon: merit badge Catholicism.

Certainly, most parishioners attend Mass every Sunday and even some who attend Mass every day.

That’s the general picture of parish life and people’s response to God’s invitation.

 So, let’s take a closer look at the parable.

  1. “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up (Matthew 13: 4).

There are those whose minds are shut.  The Word of God has no more chance of taking root than the seed that is sown on the hard path. Their pride erects barriers to the truth which makes them unteachable.  Deliberate blindness caused by immoral lifestyles and error destroys any hope of peace and joy.  Such attitudes endanger their eternal salvation.

Recently, a friend of mine correctly described the current situation of most Catholics.  He said that most Catholics act as if they have written their own Bible.

My friends’ description of the current situation is not only happening in the pews, this current problem has even reached the highest levels of the Catholic Church, thus creating unprecedented confusion in the area of faith and morals.

  1. “Some fell on rocky ground, where it has little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots (Matthew 13: 5-6).

Some people begin well but do not have the will power to persevere.  Sloth and superficiality control them.  These are the people who use the Church just to get a sacrament like a merit badge, and then disappear.

  1.  “Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (Matthew 13: 7).

Some hearers of God’s word have so many worldly interests that the things of God get crowded out.  Visits from relatives or the prospect of a Sunday excursion allow them to excuse themselves from Sunday Mass.

These are the people who have made their kids’ sporting events and professional sports into false gods.

They also may put off the Sacrament of Confession for six months to a year. They relegate daily prayer to the last moment of the day. The potential saint remains like one of Michelangelo’s unfinished masterpieces.

  1. “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty- fold” (Matthew 13: 8). 

Finally, there are those who are like the good ground.  This is where we find the true disciples of Jesus.  Their minds are open and they have the willingness to listen.

Their humble and peaceful souls are always attentive to the Holy Spirit.

Their souls listen and understand. They accept the Word and put it into action.

Their lives are transformed; they have become new persons in Christ.  The real hearers are those who listen, understand and live out the Word of God within the daily circumstances of their lives.

This Sunday’s parable can also be understood as a spiritual journey.  There are people who are far away from God and then they have a dramatic change in their lives.  These people jump suddenly from a soul like the rocky ground to a soul that is like the rich soil.

Also, we need to consider that many people struggle a lot during most of their lives.  After an initial change, perhaps due to a retreat experience, they desire to have a soul that is like the rich soil, but they continue to struggle with sins and attachments that are keeping them from a more intimate relationship with God.

Here is where the words of Pope Francis are very helpful indeed: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.  Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings” (The Joy of the Gospel, 44).

Certainly, the goal is to have a soul like the rich soil.  Those who have acquired this level of spirituality will recognize that they need to continually cultivate the rich soil.

The spiritual life is a constant battle that requires a serious spiritual life, self-reflection and a lot of mortification.

Finally, this Sunday’s parable has profound implications for anyone who has been given the responsibility of the formation of souls.  Here I am thinking of parents, grandparents, parish priests, deacons, religious education teachers and youth leaders.  All of these people must never be discouraged by the difficulties that they may find along the way as they lovingly sow the seeds of God’s Word.

Patience and perseverance are two essential virtues for anyone who wants to help others get to heaven.  Leading souls to eternal salvation demands profound love which needs to be renewed each day with an encounter with the God of love.