Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can you hear Me now?

A new pastor was assigned to a local Church. As it would happen, several members of the parish seemed to have waited for their new pastor arrive before they died. Consequently in his first four weeks he had eight funerals. He was so busy that he didn’t have time to write a new homily each Sunday so he used the homily from the Sunday before - 3 more times. A group of parishioners promptly went to the Bishop complaining that their new pastor had used the same homily 4 times in a row. The Bishop asked a simple question, “What was the homily about?” Stunned, they looked one to the other – not one of them could remember. So, the Bishop said, “Let him preach it one more time.”

There’s also the joke about the three things that St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates to get into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? Second Reading? And Gospel Reading?

My friends, our readings today cause us to reflect on the Word of God itself. What place does Sacred Scripture hold in our lives? How important do we rate God’s Holy Word? And, how receptive are we to hearing what the Lord has to say to us?

Isaiah, in our first reading, places Scripture in the highest of terms: “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.” And Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower that are meant to be a reflection and a model of what our relationship to Scripture should be. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

In Jesus’ times fields were harvested in June and then left barren during the hot, dry summer. By the fall the ground was quite hard. However, the farmers knew that the rain would be coming soon, so in the fall the farmers would plant the crop for the next year’s harvest. The farmers then didn’t plant like modern farmers. Modern farmers plant in three steps: they plough, then sow the seed and then cover the seed with soil. Ancient farmers planted in two steps: the sower would go through the fields scattering the seed all the while he was followed by a ploughman who would plough the seed under the ground. That’s why the seed that fell on the footpaths was useless. The ploughman wasn’t about to plough the footpaths. And, the seed that fell on rocks couldn’t develop strong enough roots to survive. As far as the thorns were concerned, the Near East has world class thistles plants which grow over six feet tall. And so, the only seed that had a chance of surviving would be that which fell on good soil. This is the message today: an invitation from Jesus to be that good soil. And, of course, the Word of God is the seed.

And so this causes us to ask, when it comes to Sacred Scripture, what type of soil am I? When I hear God’s Word, am I like the pathway where the seed cannot even sprout, or like the rocky ground where the seed sprouts but has no roots, or like thorny ground where the word of God is choked to death by worldly cares, or am I like the good soil that bears much fruit?

One day Eric was sharing with a group of church people about the turnaround in his life since he started to love the Scriptures. “Two years ago,” he said, “I had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays, I would shop around going from church to church to find the priest that gave the shortest homily. My idea of a good Mass was one that took 40 minutes or less! The shorter, the better.” But, once Eric became open to hearing God’s Word; once he became good soil, all of that changed. He became like the writer of Psalm 119 who said, “Had your word, O Lord, not been my delight, I would have perished…I will never forget your words; through them you give me life.”

Jesus is calling us all to become people who do not merely respect God’s Word, or appreciate it; but who love the Word of God. A priest delivered a homily in 10 minutes one Sunday, which was about half his usual length. He explained to the parish, “I regret to inform you that my dog, who is very fond of eating paper, ate the portion of my homily which I was unable to deliver this morning.” After Mass, a visitor from another church shook hands with the priest and said, “Father, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my priest.” My friends, if our favorite part of God’s Word is when it is over, then we are missing the point.

Loving God’s Word, being good soil, all begins with our openness. Can we surrender to God’s Word? Can we believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word? Can we be people who pledge to live as St. James calls us to, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only…The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what they do.”

So, what type of soil will you be? The seed of God’s Word has been placed in each of us again today at this Holy Mass. Will it grow and be fruitful? Or will it wither and fade? My friends, the answer is in our hands.

May God give you peace.

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