Homily: Sowing Seed on Rocks
15th Sunday – Cycle A
Gospel: Mt. 13:1-23
I had the honor of con-celebrating a wedding for some of my good friends Friday. They are an amazing couple; they are talented, good together, and so excited about their faith. The whole evening was full of stories about the providential work of God in bringing the two of them together. They had examined each moment of their lives well and come to see the careful work God had done to make this beautiful union possible. Even more powerful to me was the way they have both grown since they have been together. Whatever their life plans were prior to this relationship, they knew shortly after meeting each other that God was taking them in a new direction- and they embraced that adventure. Together they have begun to go out on mission: to challenge their friends to live the faith, lead youth groups and retreats, and most importantly, they actually pray together. I think their marriage is a great witness to the interplay between prayer and mission that we see in the gospel parable today.
This seems like an interesting parable because- what decent farmer sows seed on a path, or in thorns, or in a patch of weeds? Well, the ancients in that region would often sow seed before they plowed. Which means that the sower would work hard to cover the whole of the earth with the seed, fully knowing that much of it would never bear fruit.
The great preacher and Church Father John Chrysostom has an interesting insight into the passage. He points out that from an earthly perspective, it is foolish to cast seed on rock and amongst thorns or weeds. But from a spiritual perspective, it is entirely possible for a hardened, stony heart to be made flesh (Ez 36:26). Weeds and thorns can be uprooted in an instant by God’s grace. Wherever Jesus Christ sows the weed of his word, there is always hope of fruit.
I also find this parable fascinating because the interpretation is given us by Jesus himself! He gives us the answer. First, he says the seed sown on the path is “the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” This, in today’s context, would be someone who was perhaps raised in the Church but has fallen away, who never really embraced it or believed in their own heart.
The seed on rocky ground is the person who “receives the word at once with joy!” but because there were no deep roots, the trials and tribulations of life tear them away from their faith. We have all experienced tragedy in some degree, and if you say it does not shake our faith, you are either a saint or you are being foolish. Suffering and death are terrible evils, and to pretend they are not is to stick our head in the sand. If we face these things without the deep roots of faith, we will not stand.
The seed sown among the thorns is “the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” Have you ever had a particularly powerful experience of God’s love in prayer, or on retreat, or perhaps at Church camp? Possibly you attended a moving funeral for someone who lived life well or you heard a stirring homily from a much more skilled preacher than myself. You found yourself cut to the heart and decided to change your life, to reform this or that habit, and you even wrote it down. Yet inevitably, the cares of life began to creep in, the feeling of the moment passed, and you settled back into your daily routine. I can recall of number of experiences like this in my own life. In fact, the number one reason Catholics leave the Church is this. It’s almost never a reason of disagreement with the Church or scandal- rather their rigorous daily routine slowly swallows up their time until eventually their spiritual life is swallowed up as well, and because they don’t have deep roots, they fail to even realize they have lost their faith.
It’s unlikely that any of us finds ourselves squarely in one of those three categories- nor do we imagine ourselves to be providing God perfect soil in which to plant his word. Perhaps two, three, or all four stages describe adequately the course of our life. That is usually how the spiritual life works for us. Yet it is exhausting- how can we stop the cycle of being distracted, shaken by tragedy, hemmed in, on the verge of being choked out by worldly cares. I want to propose two solutions we must exercise simultaneously to cultivate rich soil in our hearts. The first is already given us in the gospel from last week, that is, the call to rest with Jesus. We must pray and spend time with him, both in private but especially in the Holy Mass. That is indeed how we cultivate the soil, and the great Carmelite St. Theresa of Avila said the only requirement for beginners like most of us is “to labour, be resolute, and prepare ourselves with all possible diligence” to be united to God. Basically, we just need to do it- Just do it! (Credit to Shia LeBeouf)
This week we are being prepared for the other aspect of the Christian life: the mission! You may not initially think about missionary work when you hear the parable of the sower, but it is a perfect assessment of the Church today, one in which a majority of baptized Christians are not going to Church, not praying, and perhaps not living their faith in any visible way. Pope John Paul II called for the “New Evangelization” for exactly this demographic. You know better than me (I’m just the new guy) that we don’t need leave Butte to be on mission. We also mustn’t get this idea that evangelizing is just a good and meritorious endeavor that some Christians do and most are too busy for- it is essential for the life of the Christian. If our faith is so personal that we don’t want to share it with others, we will not get to keep it ourselves. This is the general principle of our spiritual life: Faith is a gift, and it is one which will be lost if it is not given away.
Father! isn’t the gospel’s “fertile soil of our hearts” referring to the fruit of a personal relationship with Christ? Yes, absolutely, but Jesus tells us that fertile soil bears fruit 100-fold (or at least sixty or thirty)! We are called to heaven, but we are not supposed to arrive alone- nor can we get there alone. When we arrive at the gates of heaven, we are to point and say, look Jesus, look at all these I brought with me to your gates, these who I have prayed for, I served, I fed, I clothed, these I have visited when they were sick and suffering and dying. Saint John tells us- “If we say we love God but we hate our brothers and sisters, we are lying.” (1 John 4:20)
I don’t want to give a vague exhortation about missionary work with no real direction, yet I also don’t want to attempt and give some sort of program for success, because that just isn’t realistic- both because I am new and don’t know the needs of this community, and because God calls each of us to a particular mission which is woven into our daily lives. And this is where we return again to prayer- for it is only in prayer that we know what that mission is, where exactly our Lord is moving our hearts to serve. Is it bringing the gospel to the poor and homeless? The imprisoned? The disabled? Is it visiting the elderly? Or perhaps it is door to door evangelization. You can be certain that God has a mission for you and it is essential to cultivating the soil of your heart for his word.
Recall the moment when you first came to faith, when you realized God exists and that he actually loves you. If you have not actually experienced that- pray for it. If you have- you are now called to bear fruit 100-fold. Think of the newlyweds Sean and Megan- the mission God has called them to has transformed their lives, totally changed their trajectory, yet they found that it also guides each ordinary action of their day.
Surely many of you have already allowed the soil of your hearts to be cultivated- why else would you be here? Now we all must enter the mission, that may slowly but surely spread God’s seed throughout the Holy City of Butte.