To receive the amazing gifts of God, first clear away the rocks and weeds

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: July 9-10, 2011
Isa 55:10-11; Ps 65; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23

How amazing is the Word of God! How wonderful the grace of God, which enters into our lives as we hear his word and receive it and understand it and are converted, so that he may heal us.

  • It brings us life—a supernatural life that it contains within itself, as within a seed that enters into lifeless ground, and there springs up and transforms it.
  • It brings nourishment, like the rain and snow that enter into thirsty dry ground—filling it with the water that it desperately needs, and changing it; breaking up its clods, softening it, drenching it.
  • And it brings fruit—fruit that is beautiful and rich and fragrant; fruit that is pleasing to the Lord and nourishing to others who behold it.

Our Lord Jesus speaks of this fruit using the image of a great harvest. For farming in the Holy Land in the first century normally yielded a harvest of anywhere between 4- and 10-fold. But in Christ’s parable the seed sown on rich soil yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. It yields an abundance beyond all expectations!

And the saints sometimes speak of our hearts and souls and lives becoming like great, beautiful gardens, filled with the virtues of faith, hope and love; with the fruits of joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. [Gal 5:22-23] And all of this is just the beginning, in this earthly life—for, as St. Paul tells us in our second reading, both the blessings and the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

Brothers and sisters, I believe this! I have experienced it. This is why I became a priest—so that I could be a channel who helps to bring the Lord’s grace and healing into people’s lives. I look forward to seeing it happen, during my time here as parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew’s. And I have seen it happen before, in my own life and in others’ lives—when we will allow the Lord to do his work in us. When we will make room for his grace, and respond and cooperate with it.

We know that our life in this world, and especially in our society today, offers us many opportunities. We can choose from many wonderful things: possessions; fun activities; unforgettable experiences; and more. So many things that can make our lives full and busy and active and rich.

Or do they? Because the parable of the sower that we hear from our Lord challenges us to reconsider what it is that fills our hearts and lives. Just because our lives are full of stuff and full of activity does not necessarily mean that we are enjoying the blessing or achieving the purpose that he intends.

  • All that stuff may well be rocks, turning us into rocky ground, and preventing his word from taking deep root in our lives.
  • All that activity may be weeds and thorns, worldly anxiety and the lure of earthly riches, that chokes the word so that it bears no fruit.

Instead of being rich, we may be barren of the divine life that matters.  We may be scorched and choked; hard-packed and impenetrable.

This does not have to happen; but it can. For any one of us—priests, lay men and women, youth, and children—it is possible to fill our lives with so many other things that there is no room left for that amazing, abundant life of grace that the Lord wants to plant within us. And it is possible that we said Yes, in complete openness, at one time in our lives, and then gradually over time have turned that Yes into Mostly No. And so this Gospel calls us to self-examination today.

In Christ’s parable, there are four different outcomes. Now we know there is no difference in the sower; and there is no difference in the seed, the word, that he sows. The difference comes in the kind of ground upon which the seed falls: in what the ground is made of, and whether it is able to receive the word of grace and truth that is given to it.

But, whereas ground is inanimate and cannot move change itself in order to better receive that seed—we can. We can clear out the rocks; we can clear out the weeds. And that is why, when Christian spiritual writers throughout the past 2000 years have laid out the spiritual life in three stages, the first stage is the Purgative Way. Because, before we can reach the Illuminative and Unitive Ways, first we must purge from our lives all that is contrary to the grace that is given to us.

And what is it that we need to remove?

First, we need to remove all sin from our lives—all that is contrary to the revealed will of God.

  • We need to turn away from all mortal, or serious, sins, which kill the share of the divine life within us.
  • We need to turn away from all venial, or smaller, sins, which weaken and wound us.

We need to turn away from all sins against the perfect love of God and neighbor; against life and wellbeing; against sexual purity; against honesty in word and deed; against true receptiveness to the teachings of Christ and his Church. We need to turn away from all sins. And we need to bring our sins to that wellspring of life: to our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of confession that he instituted. Frequent confession is so very important for spiritual growth; and I always recommend once a month. Please come to confession once a month.

Second, we need to remove from our lives whatever weighs us down. These are things that are not wrong in themselves, and for other people they might be no problem. But when each of us listens carefully to Christ’s calling to us in our own lives, and we know what we are like and how things affect us—and we find that some relationship or job or possession or habit is weighing us down, hindering us from following God’s will rather than helping—then we need to remove it from our lives.

As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” [Heb 12:1-2]

Third, in addition to following the precepts of the Church, we need to make room to receive God’s grace daily.

  • For some, this could be through coming to weekday Mass or Eucharistic Adoration or praying the rosary with others.
  • It could be studying Sacred Scripture with others or on our own, and allowing the Holy Spirit to truly speak to us through it.
  • And surely it means making time for prayer, regularly, at different times of the day, sometimes using the prayers of the Church, sometimes speaking to the Lord of what is in our hearts and listening to what he says to us.

In these ways, we prepare ourselves as rich soil for the life and nourishment that the Lord longs to give us—and that we long to receive, if only we will allow him.

Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods, softening it with showers, blessing its yield.

The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.


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