For the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus uses four different types of earth conditions, four different types of ground, in the teaching of the story. He certainly could have used many more types of soil and earth, and attach them to the Kingdom of Heaven and its meaning. In Ireland alone he could have used 40 shades of green. But our Lord uses four examples that his listeners can personally relate to, because they happen to be from types of earth the people of Israel would know best.
In Ireland, they wouldn’t know much about dry, rocky soil. There’s never a drought in Ireland, on the land or in the pubs. In the desert of the southwestern United States, they wouldn’t know much about rich soil and fertile ground. They hardly see rain. But those listening to Jesus teach on that day long ago, they could visualize in their minds exactly what he was saying, because they trod these four various types of soil each day in Israel.
And, since man was formed from the dust of the earth – the words of Ash Wednesday… “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Since man was formed from the dust of the earth, it would be proper to say that Jesus is teaching in this parable four different types of people in relation to faith in God. It’s proper our Lord uses examples of the very land from which our creation began, to teach about four different types of that one creation, namely, the human person. And then how we’re either connected or disconnected to the Kingdom of Heaven by way of the instrument of faith.
First of all, we’re all connected to the ground. Our most natural place of existence is walking the ground from which we were first formed. This is why airplanes didn’t come on the scene until Orville and Wilbur Wright did their amazing deed at Kitty Hawk, N.C. early last century. Humans were not formed with wings. The way we’re trying to change the human body nowadays, from one gender to another, maybe one day the mad scientists will implant wings into our sides, putting all the airlines out of business. Until then, we are beings of the ground. We are most natural when our feet are planted on the earth. Which is why this parable of Jesus is so richly human as he uses the earth to teach the necessity of having lasting faith.
Faith is a grace from God, but faith works in concert with our will to choose it each day. Our faith in Christ is not something that is completely beyond our choosing, where God is kind enough to just dump it on us. The first step of having faith in Christ does come from outside us in the sense that our Lord makes faith possible through his gift of grace. But accepting faith, and practicing our Christian faith in our lives, that’s on us as individuals, choosing to make it our own.
The order Jesus teaches in this parable goes from worst to first. It’s the perfect order for any homily preached in his name. He puts the tough examples in the beginning and middle of the parable, but it ends on a high note. The high note of bearing good fruit 100, 60, or thirtyfold. This mirrors our life; tough times along the way, ending in resurrection, which has no end.
Any homily about Christ that ends on a negative note is the worst homily in the world. The symbolism is that our Lord is still in the grave, when he isn’t. It must end on a positive note, because he’s raised from the dead. Which is what Christ does in the parable of the sower and the seed.
It’s sad that we even have the first three examples of faith in this parable taught by the Master Teacher. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word, without understanding the word, and the Devil comes and steals what’s in their heart. I pray that your approach to safeguarding the word, the voice of God speaking to us in the Scriptures, is similar to mine; it’ll be a cold day in you know what before he ever leaves you know where and steals the pearl from my heart. Have a Christian determination to protect the word in your heart. And never allow this first sad example of man being formed from the soil happen to you. The Devil has no problem breaking the 7th commandment, stealing God’s word from our hearts, if we don’t safeguard against it.
Another sad example is the seed sown on rocky ground, hearing and receiving the word with joy, but its temporary. It’s fleeting, just for a moment. Here’s my negative, in the middle, preaching to you, the choir. This example of our Lord reminds me too much of what happens way too often after reception of the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The sacrament is received, and then, … where did they go? Was there no root in the joy of learning and receiving the sacrament? We pray they return to their faith, because we still love them.
One more sad example of badly formed soil is the seed sown among thorns, where worldly anxieties and the lure of riches overpowers the seed. This is why I hope I never win Powerball. If I do, I’ll buy my own golf course, then get rid of the rest of it. God created a beautiful world for us who are formed from the soil of it. Lots of attractions out there, beginning with Disney World. The people of this 3rd example forget that all things are passing, except our faith, which leads us to seeing God face to face.
But it ends on a high note, this parable, and homily. Your heart is rich soil. It’s the soil God used when he created man and woman. Cultivate it with God’s word found in his Church. Hear it, understand it, trust it, and act on it. That’s the perfect person of faith, formed from the rich soil. With imperfections along the way, but always the perfection of choosing faith in the One who speaks the parable.
There’s not much better than a nice summer Gospel that matches the month and the weather. A Gospel of finding rest and light burdens.
We’re not all workaholics. There may be a few among this religious gathering of peace-loving people. Certainly, when you own your own company, we must do our best to make sure it doesn’t fold. That may at times require more time away from family and the other important things of life, and making sure our livelihood doesn’t cease in order to support oneself and one’s family. Such would be a balanced approach to labor and family.
A workaholic, on the other hand, is a person who has little or no awareness they are losing the important things in life, such as family. It sneaks up on them one day. They make excuses, not reasons, to spend crazy amounts of time at labor, saying over and over again that “This is what I have to do.” They have a ridiculously hard time being away from their profession. And an easier time – much easier – being away from a family vacation, with a little bit of rest to recharge some physical and spiritual batteries.
The rest that Jesus talks about giving –“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” – is surely the spiritual rest that every soul needs. Let me put it this way; if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person on the Trinity, felt the need to take time to head up the mountain to pray and recharge for another day of ministry, then every person is in need of the same. Unless we believe that Jesus wasn’t a man’s man, or a woman’s man, and that he was weak in his approach to taking some down time, that the Son of God wasn’t as strong and energetic as we are, then his call to rest is one to be heeded on our behalf. It is spiritual rest he calls his Disciples to, but his call to rest is for the entire person, body and spirit.
Our Lord’s summer call to rest in him doesn’t require all sorts of money and riches that are needed at the best hotels at favorite vacation spots. If I didn’t go to Gettysburg and beyond, spending finances on average hotels and motels, then I would find a less expensive form of resting and reflecting on God’s personal presence and his many wonders in creation.
So, one simple theological point I make about our Lord’s invitation to slow down in him, to chill out in his loving embrace, is the point that has to do with his dominion, his power over all things, his mighty hand that holds all things, his omnipotence. And the verse is right there, hiding in the middle of the Gospel. It’s easy to hear it and bypass it; “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” The world is the Lord’s and all that is in it. We pretend to own things for a brief time, until we die. I guess it makes us feel good that we believe we own things.
I own that car, it’s finally paid off. I own my own house; we burned the mortgage last year without burning down the house. I own that horse that won the Kentucky Derby. I own my own plane, boat, train, and blimp. Would you like a ride in my blimp? In 19th century America, we used to think we owned other people. We pretend to own such things… and people, because one day we’re not gonna have any of it.
But that sunset at the ocean that doesn’t cost anything except a quarter tank of gas to get there; that snow-capped mountain that rises from the earth; that forest full of foliage; those Niagara Falls; we don’t own them. And neither does any country, no matter what they say. God created them; sustains them, and owns them so that we can share in his rest and incredible beauty. Such things are the physical part of what God has handed over to his beloved Son. St. Paul calls Jesus “The firstborn of all creation.” This includes the physical creation that God called forth. Our Lord doesn’t disown anything he created, because he saw that it was very good. And we are to enjoy this dimension of Jesus Christ. We share in his physical beauty of creation. Pope Francis would love this homily.
As we know, however, our Lord’s call to rest in him is by no means limited to the physical. His twofold call for us to rest in him is an invitation into the spiritual world of God’s unconditional love. And that’s where we realize in a personal way his abundant graces that he places before us.
Always the grace of his everlasting mercy. Seeking and accepting his mercy into our lives not only reveals the deepest meaning of the Cross, but also brings us to a place of spiritual rest, a place of confidence that he is for us, and not against us. Way too many folks walk around thinking that God is actually against them. That false belief is a pure contradiction to the meaning of the Cross, which is infinite love.
There is our Lord’s call to rest in his peace and healing. Some of the most peaceful people I’ve met have been close to death. Usually accompanied by some intense suffering, but they’ve crossed the bridge of our Lord’s invitation to rest in him, finding peace in their souls, where suffering and imminent death will actually intensify their peace. Only Christ can give such a gift.
So, our Lord’s dominion and call to rest in him touches our lives in a twofold way. Find some rest in his physical creation. He did a good job when creating it. There’s nothing better than the Original Artist. And be certain to take time to rest in Christ spiritually, where all good things for us have been handed over to him for our benefit.
As we celebrate America’s birthday this coming week, we all have the opportunity to express our love for country by way of enjoying festivities. Cookouts; gatherings with family and friends; wearing red, white, and blue; sneaking in an illegal firecracker or two. You can bring that to Confession.
As Americans of all stripes, it’s easy to love much about the country we’re blessed to call home. Here at Immaculate Conception, we stand on the heels of people like Fr. Ed Connors, whose chaplaincy of the 9th Infantry Division during World War II is well known to many of us. A true Patriot-Priest who served his country with honor and distinction back in the 1940’s. And hanging around these parts until his death in 1986.
To reflect Fr. Connors’ patriotism and love of country, just check out the back two stain-glass windows the good Padre had installed in the Church when it was built back in 1957. One is Blessed Mary blessing George Washington, titled Washington Prays For His Country, which the Bishop of Worcester at the time thought Fr. Connors was a bit too Protestant back in ’57 with that window. You can see who won that discussion. And the other one on the other side is For God and Country. A phrase that goes to the heart of the life of the former Pastor who invited thousands of veterans from the 9th Division back to Worcester each year to celebrate friendships and survival.
For God and Country. For God and Family. And therein lies the Greatest Generation; God, family, and country. I’ve seen this firsthand with many funerals I’ve been blessed to preside at. Funerals of veterans, as well as their spouses who made the country run while the enlisted were overseas. Both of them doing their duty for freedom.
God, family, and country gets to the heart of this week’s Gospel and readings. Readings about love, prioritizing our love, and enjoying the freedom that flows from our love.
“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say you are not to love your parents and children. That we are to somehow leave them destitute and alone, especially in old age and sickness. Yet, my sense is that’s how some folks understand the words of our Lord, and feel offended by them, when the truth of Christian teaching and application is just the opposite. We are to love parents and children, and I would add siblings, friends, and strangers, even enemies. We are to love our country, as Fr. Connors did, with all its issues, bad laws, attacks on religious freedom, its setbacks and shortcomings. That sounds like a family!
But Jesus’ teaching to the Apostles is to help them understand and accept into their Christian discipleship that he takes second place to no one. His purpose has nothing at all to do with an oversized ego. He has no ego. So we can scratch that off the list of reasons why love for him must be given before our love for family.
Here’s the reason why he wants such prioritized love from his Apostles, and from each of us; it’s in Romans, chapter 6; “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Love for the Lord leads to newness of life, where love is fulfilled in dimensions that we can’t even behold right now.
The same goes with love for country. Love your country with all of her blessings and curses. But don’t be so overzealous about her that our love for country supersedes love for our Creator. Remember the hands that brought us into existence, and the hands that will grant us newness of life.
How is this greater love for Jesus manifested for us Catholics? First, through devotion to his holy Name. The only time the Apostles spoke the word Jesus, Yeshua, was when they praised him as Lord, or when they told stories in the oral tradition of what he spoke or did among the people. When spoken, his Name was always raised high. Second, have a steadfast prayer life that searches for the closeness the Apostles have in this Gospel. They’re sitting with him. Take time to sit with Christ, who desires our closeness. It’s not a freaky thing to do. It’s most natural. A Christian who fails to pray is way too occupied with worldly things that are passing.
Third, greater love for Christ is manifested in our solemn, reverent reception of Holy Eucharist. I must admit I get frustrated at weddings and funerals when an individual comes forward to receive the Eucharist and they simply grab at it… Our posture and reverence when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ expresses a greater love for our Savior. It reveals what’s in a person’s heart. A very simple act that takes about 3 seconds, but a very meaningful and profound act on our part.
And fourth, our greater love for Christ is always manifested in the familiar commandment of loving neighbor. Our greater love for Christ is never disconnected from caring about the needs of the real poor and despised, as well as praying for those who abuse power and finances. Love of neighbor is not only about serving the poor, but about the wayward rich also.
Jesus demands our greater love for him so that we may love greatly in this short life. It’s the fool who thinks they can love greatly without loving God initially. People like that take all the credit, and give none to the One who sustains their life. May we love Christ first and above all, and the eternal joys that follow will be ours. Fr. Connors had it right; For God and Country. He had his priorities in order. He understood this Gospel very well.